Following a decision which divided Comox council, the new majority owner of the Harbour Centre is hoping a change in permit can pave the way to fully occupying the building with tenants.
Owner Mark Havin, who purchased the building at 1892 Beaufort Ave. in February 2016, told council at Wednesday’s meeting he is hoping a change in a setback guideline to allow renting to retail or professional services would assist in occupying the front street units.
He added it’s disheartening to drive down Church Street and see empty spaces facing the street, although he added the building is 70 per cent occupied on the other floors.
“I have been approached by a hearing clinic, a lawyer, a bookkeeper, medical professionals and even a funeral director … there are no retailers interested.”
The current setback does not allow for offices on the ground floor; despite lowering his square-footage price, Havin said he has not garnered any interest at all.
Coun. Russ Arnott asked council to wait 18 months to see what the interest would be following the rate change. He explained it would be an opportunity to hold onto retail space at a strategic site, as the building was built with a setback for retail.
Havin noted the ground floor of the building would sit empty for a total of six years if it could not be filled within the 18-month window.
Later in the meeting, Arnott proposed the alternate resolution, to have the development variance permit application tabled until September 2019.
The motion was amended to six months (to be tabled until the first council meeting this September), but was defeated as amended.
The original motion – to issue the development variance permit for office space – however, was still on the table.
“I think there are other reasons why the space is not being rented,” said Coun. Ken Grant, who added he will support the original motion.
“Parking is an issue; it’s often looked at being a building that is not like those on the main street. It’s been given plenty of time to find retailers.”
Coun. Maureen Swift agreed.
“We promote the idea that Comox is open for business, but it’s been sitting empty for some time. It kind of goes against (that). We need to recognize the nature of retail is changing.”
The motion to permit office spaces on the ground floor was carried with two councillors – Arnott and Hugh MacKinnon – voting against the motion.