It may not look like much now, but the School District 69 (Qualicum) bus garage sits on one of the most valuable and high-profile properties in Qualicum Beach.
Because of this, what to do with the site, located at the corner of Fern Road and Memorial Avenue, is one of the central issues in the ongoing review of the town’s official community plan. Mayor Teunis Westbroek noted the municipality has been angling to buy the property for at least 25 years, and it is finally going to happen.
“It’s not a matter of if, but of when,” he said, noting the purchase is expected to go through some time this summer. “This will help establish a sense of place and pride. We aren’t buying it for ownership’s sake. We are buying it to accommodate the desires and aspirations of the community.”
In a report to council, town staff noted there is no shortage of ideas about what can be done at the key property.
From the options presented, staff picked a park or public square, a neighbourhood pub, commercial space, artists studios and galleries, a hotel, performing arts centre, seniors’ centre, residential development on the second storey, an outdoor performance venue, parking and a movie theatre as the best for the site.
“There is a myriad of uses and innovative solutions to providing some economic activity on that corner, along with public open space,” said chief administrative officer Mark Brown. “The proposal is to put this out to the public and private sector, where the possibility of having commercial at one end, parking in the middle and public amenities at the other will be looked at to see what makes sense.”
That didn’t sit well with Councillor Jack Wilson, who stressed because the site will be purchased with $1.5 million in town money, its use should be restricted to public use.
“This will be the first major building you see when you come in from the roundabout and it is important to make a good first impression — like the Sydney opera house.”
Although they liked his architectural suggestion, Wilson’s colleagues were leery about ruling out too many options.
Staff will prepare a space needs and facility study to detail the functional and operational aspects of development on the site, before a request for proposals is issued.
“This is just the beginning,” Westbroek said.
“This will not be built overnight. This is part of a very thorough, transparent and public process. This is going to be one of the highlights of the OCP review.”