Groundbreaking held for student housing complex

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Tuesday for the student housing complex now under construction in the city's downtown.

Along with the Park House condominum project next to city hall, Mayor Lyn Hall called the complex a key part of the City's strategy to encourage more people to live in the downtown and revitalize the area in the process.

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"This is a really big deal for us," Hall said.

He also said it will be an opportunity for the University of Northern British Columbia and the College of New Caledonia to market themselves with a "little different approach."

"It's an opportunity for them to say 'look, we provide top-rate student housing in the city and it's in an ideal location," Hall said.

Ground has already been cleared and space for underground parking has been dug out at the spot, a 0.34-hectare site at 1404 Patricia Blvd., next to the Marriott Courtyard and across from the Prince George Public Library.

Scheduled for completion by summer 2021, the six-storey wood-framed structure will hold 205 self-contained "micro-units" which are less than 29 square metres, or 312 square feet, made possible under a special zone developed specifically for the project.

A 10-year municipal tax exemption for eligible commercial and multi-family development in the downtown area also helped get the project off the ground.

"We don't see a lot of private developers developing student housing...and the reason for that is it's not really a high-yield investment so our partners on the development are what we call long-term institutional investors where the returns don't have to be extreme, just as long as they're steady," said Tim McLennan, design and operations director for Kelowna-based Factions Projects Inc.  "And so, for that reason, the incentives become very important."

Because it's in an urban environment, McLennan said the design steps include finding ways to "connect with the street."

"Typically, in a mixed-use development, you'd have a lot of retail, maybe restaurants, where there's a lot of interaction with the street," he said. "In our case, what we have to offer are the amenity spaces - the lounges, the gymnasium, the weight room - the things that can connect to the street and you can see activity with the building and make it easy for the building to kind of interface with the surroundings."

In contrast, he said on-campus student housing is typically made up entirely of residential.

"They might maybe have a cafeteria or food service but it's almost all just sleeping units and study spaces and lounges are maybe not as front and centre and celebrated as ours."

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