RESLAND DEVELOPMENT CORP.
An artist’s rendering of the exterior of the original proposal for the McKenzie Towers development.
The owners of McKenzie Towers has halted sales of condominiums temporarily, citing poor sales and plans for a different development approach, a Resland Development Corp. spokesman said Tuesday.
"It’s not a complete pull out," said Resland manager Trevor Broad. "We’ve spent the last three to four months trying to rally some interest and gather commitments from prospective buyers and we just haven’t been comfortable with the response we’ve gotten to this point. We are going back to the drawing board to see what we can come up with and see how we can get this thing going."
Broad said the project was less than 25 per cent sold when the Langley, B.C.-based firm decided to work on another plan for the site that’s more likely to be successful. He noted the general interest in the $17-$18 million, 93-suite, two-tower project was not where it needed to be for the project to start.
"We’re looking at other options and we’re not too willing to discusss them just yet as they are in the infancy stage but we will be coming into town in the next couple of weeks to talk with some potential partners to reassess and give us some help," Broad said.
The move has meant that a Brandon-based employee, who had been working to sell units in the complex in a sales and marketing capacity, is no longer doing so and calls to the former Brandon office line are forwarded back to the Langley office. However, there will likely be a commercial and residential component to the project, as was originally intended.
"We may be looking at not biting off so much all at once and maybe introducing a smaller number of suites at first, likely doing one building at a time," Broad said, who added all ideas are on the table,
The downtown development, which served as a backdrop at one of Premier Greg Selinger’s top Westman campaign announcements, was highlighted because of the intended use of tax increment financing. Broad said the tax increment financing is not impacted yet, because that was to be paid out when the building was complete.
When Selinger made his election announcement in Brandon on Sept. 25, 2011, he pledged that private developers could build 2,500 housing units across the province, using tax increment financing as a tool to kickstart other development.
"Tax increment financing is here for the long haul," Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell said. "We’ve used it successfully in Winnipeg and it has been used with great success in North America, so that’s an arrow that will remain in the quiver for developers to successfully complete their projects."
Caldwell said the McKenzie Towers project is a key barometer on what kind of city Brandon becomes, in part because the higher-density condo style of living is more common in larger centres than a city of Brandon’s size.
"I think this is a transition from Brandon emerging from a large town into a city," Caldwell said. "The McKenzie Towers project is something you would see in a larger community, say of 100,000 people. This is a project that tests the current city of Brandon and it will guide Brandon, like the ACC expansion, into a bigger league.
"You have a very large piece of historic architecture in downtown Brandon, that are commonplace in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. In Brandon, it’s not common and there has been nothing of this scale or nature attempted in Brandon before."
For that reason, Caldwell said it was a test of Brandon’s culture as well.
But is Brandon ready for urban-style condo living? Previous attempts, such as the Renaissance Station project, needed to be built first before Brandonites bought into the idea.
"Renaissance Station is getting to the stage where it is sold out, but it took time for it to get there, said Brandon Real Estate Board president Michael Barrett. "I think a project like that, you need to have a few units done so people can see what they are and for a few people to buy in and put their faith in the project before others will jump in."
Barrett noted that while there was awareness for the project, "I’m not sure how aggressively it was marketed."
"It is a bigger-city idea, where you live downtown to be close to work because otherwise it’s an hour and a half commute," Barrett said. "You are spending a good chunk of your day commuting where in Brandon, you are 15 minutes from downtown at the furthest point in the city. I think it’s a bit of a different market in that respect."
Barrett said Brandonites are starting to think about living downtown, but the community’s housing preferences are slower to adapt because of the rural influences from around the area.
"Land isn’t scarce here like it is in other centres," Barrett said. "We may be running out of building lots, but there is land to be developed. I’m sure there’s land to be developed for the right price."
Construction on the McKenzie Towers project was supposed to have started this summer. While Broad said he is hopeful that can still happen, the company is taking a wait and see approach until there are more unit sales or a different concept of a residential/commercial idea is developed.
"It’s too early to say at this point," Broad said. "We are back at the drawing board and hope to come up with some new ideas soon. If anyone out there wants to give us some positive information, we’d certainly want to hear it."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 11, 2012