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Osoyoos to reap massive economic spinoffs related to new correctional centre
Economic excitement is starting to grow over the correctional centre coming to the South Okanagan, and the Town of Osoyoos is more than ready for the project.
“I truly feel that the Okanagan Correctional Centre will have a tremendous impact in all the South Okanagan communities,” said Mayor Stu Wells.
He noted that council recently had a presentation with four members of BC Corrections administration as they brought the town up to speed and answered many questions.
Wells pointed out there will be a full public engagement scheduled soon in Oliver and Osoyoos.
“If things stay on schedule and so far they have, the builder will be announced in the spring of 2014 and construction will start,” Wells said.
The prison is being built on Osoyoos Indian Band land in Senkulmen Business Park north of Oliver.
Wells said he understands it will take 30 months to construct the facility, which will be staffed by approximately 250 people.
“These are direct job numbers, and then you have to take into account the ‘spin-off’ numbers. These are large numbers that will certainly impact our communities,” Wells said.
The mayor said all of the communities in the South Okanagan will receive a share of these workers looking for accommodations.
Wells noted that BC Corrections will be talking about employment opportunities at the public engagement sessions.
The session for Osoyoos is scheduled for October 10.
They will also answer general questions, so this will be an important time to get information, Wells said.
The mayor stated he can see some definite impacts from the prison. He listed examples such as an increase in school enrolments and hospital usage.
“It would seem obvious that it would help all of our merchants and our construction industries.”
But Wells mentioned a rise in census numbers, which concerns him and Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes.
“It is quite likely that both towns could go over the population number of 5,000, which means that we would start paying for 70 per cent of our policing costs,” Wells said.
He noted the 2011 census put Osoyoos at 4,845 and Oliver at ,4824. The next census is 2016.
Wells pointed out that he and members of council will be discussing this issue with the appropriate ministries at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September.
With Osoyoos being one of the 14 resort municipalities designated by the
provincial government, tourism is the town’s major economic driver, noted Don Brogan, chair of Destination Osoyoos.
He said tourism marketing and economic development must be planned in concert, adding you can’t have one disconnected from the other.
“Given this, the impact of the proposed
correctional centre planned to be installed north of Oliver can only bring more economic fuel for our region.”
Brogan said the spin-off in increased population with new people moving to the region provides more adults and families to help populate the already shallow labour pool.
He noted that more people living and working
here can only benefit the entire region.
“I don’t see a negative for anyone, even the inmates. Who wouldn’t want to spend more
time in the beautiful South Okanagan?”
Maureen Doerr from the Oliver Business Association said “new blood (in town) is always good.”
She believes the prison will attract a few newcomers (hopefully more families) that will create stability for local stores, schools and the hospital.
“I don’t think we’ll see a bunch of new businesses springing open, but I do see more (new) people shopping locally.”
Doerr said the newcomers will not all live in Oliver because they will also have Osoyoos and Penticton to choose from.
“If we get one-quarter of them (living in Oliver), we’ll be happy.”
Doerr said the Town of Oliver is putting together a promotional package for potential newcomers. This package will include information on what the community has to offer, such as amenities and services.
Doerr said she can’t see developers taking the risk of building extra accommodation in hopes that a lot of people will move here.
“It’s not a case of build it and they will come. We can’t do that. That’s putting the cart before the horse.”
But Doerr does see a lot of spin-off effects from the prison, such as job creation.
Hovanes said Oliver has a decent amount of land for multi-family, in fact, there is land already zoned that would accommodate several hundred homes.
He noted that Deer Park Estates north of town has expansion plans, and the Osoyoos Indian Band has plans for several hundred homes. In addition, the Desert Hills development near the Oliver cemetery is also zoned and ready to go.
“I believe there is room to accommodate any new workers who would like to call Oliver home.”
Chief Clarence Louie from the band said housing is a personal responsibility, noting that every worker is responsible to find his own housing.
“Our golf course has a housing project selling houses and lots, and there are other housing lots available on housing projects off the reserve in Oliver and Osoyoos.”
Tom Szalay, municipal manager for the Town of Oliver, agreed they would not have a problem accommodating any influx of new people. He too said that investors will not spend money building homes in Oliver for people who “might” come here.
“One realtor said we’ll be lucky if we get 30 people living here out of 300.”
Szalay acknowledged there will be jobs, but not all of them will be filled locally. Some of the workers will be brought in from elsewhere, he pointed out.
Matt Lewis, broker/owner of RE/MAX Wine Capital Realty, believes the correctional centre will create a more diversified community and help fill the gap in the demographics under the 55-plus age group.
“Retirement communities are great, but a well diversified community of people from all ages and walks of life is more desirable for the long term sustainability of a town.”
Lewis said construction workers will be in need of short and long-term accommodation, which will increase the demand for rental properties, and impact their cost in Oliver, Osoyoos and Penticton.
“I do expect a market value increase in condominiums and other rental properties in the next 24-36 months.”
After the construction, when the hiring and transfers occur, people will undoubtedly see
an increase in market values for homes, Lewis said.
“But don’t expect it to skyrocket – prospective workers may not settle permanently in Oliver, but they will settle in the South Okanagan.”
As far as being able to accommodate everyone, Lewis said supply and demand will dictate this.
“Their are many vacant lots in Oliver, many contractors looking for work. I expect many of the remand employees working will be buying high quality used homes rather than opting for construction.”
Lewis said some people will choose to live in Osoyoos or Penticton based on the amenities they value as important when looking to buy a house or rent a home.
“Ultimately, it is going to come down to economics – the communities with the lowest rents, lowest real estate prices and highest amenities will attract the majority of people.”
But Lewis noted that rental and real estate prices in Oliver are significantly down compared to 2007 and 2008.
“I would expect that the affordable attributes with Oliver real estate will cause new workers or people relocating to work at the remand centre to consider Oliver rather than an outlying community.”
Lewis also sees a huge influx of monies cycling into local businesses as a result of higher than traditional wages and benefits paid by the provincial government to employees at the remand centre.
Matt Kenyon, general manager of Greyback Construction in Penticton, said he doesn’t see Oliver having a problem accommodating these people. He noted Oliver has a fair number of motel rooms to offer.
Kenyon said whenever Greyback sends a crew out of town for a big project, workers either rent a house or stay at a hotel.
Special to the Times