Business

Nanaimo experiencing minor building boom

Nanaimo has seen a minor building boom in recent months with construction projects springing up across the city.

Projects range from commercial to residential and some new light industrial is expected shortly.

A short list includes the new Country Grocer store, part of the new Green Rock light industrial subdivision at the intersection of Bowen Road and Dufferin Crescent. The development, when construction goes into full swing over the coming year, will ultimately connect Boxwood Road with East Wellington Road.

The Palms Marina on Stewart Avenue is packing a 21-unit condominium complex into its property on Stewart Avenue.

A strata project on the corner of Nicol and Farquhar streets will add another 45 units of living space.

Wal-mart at Woodgrove Centre is expanding its store as it adds a full service grocery section and other features.

Steve Marshall Ford and Laird Wheaton GM are undergoing extensive renovation and construction at their sites.

A new Husky gas station and convenience store is well underway at the intersection of Terminal and Stewart Avenues.

"We've got this new city hall annex under construction, which is dear to our hearts," said Andrew Tucker, city director of planning. "The other is on Wesley Street, which is the first of the supportive housing units on city-owned land."

Extensive multi- and single-family residential projects are currently happening in the Rock City Road, Rutherford Road and Stevenson Point areas of north Nanaimo and foundations are being set down for a new office and commercial space complex in the 5200 block of Metral Drive.

The sound of hammers swinging across the city is good news for construction workers, suppliers and engineering and development firms as millions of dollars flow through the local economy.

Tucker said there are plenty more development and construction permits for projects that were put on hold starting in 2008 when the world-wide economic recession hit and banks became wary of financing large commercial projects.

"At that point there was a shift where we continued to see residential development taking place, but there was a slowdown on the commercial side," Tucker said. "The banks are now freeing up the financing and the commercial sector – it's sort of pent up demand – that's been put on hold for the last couple of years and they're playing catchup at this point."

Vancouver-based Molnar Group is constructing a 121-unit rental complex at 775 Terminal Ave., which is seen as a major investment in Nanaimo's rental housing market that has seen few significant additions other than small scale projects for 25 years.

"If you're building four units at a time, the risk is reduced to those four units and you move on to your next module," Tucker said. "If you're building an apartment building of 50, 80, 100 units, suddenly the risk is multiplied."

Insight Developments' Seawalk 82-suite, 24-storey condominium tower site on Front Street remains idle and is a good example of a project where a developer and a bank financing a project want to see a high percentage of units pre-sold before investing tens of millions of dollars constructing a tower.

Because similar risks apply to large commercial projects, much of Nanaimo's current commercial construction has guaranteed occupancy upon completion.

"Most of the commercial stuff we've mentioned is existing tenants doing major renovations or expansions, with the exception of that Green Rock development," Tucker said.

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