Robust construction activity in Penticton

Range of projects underway around the city, but no one seems ready yet to declare Penticton to be in the midst of a building boom.

An excavator removes soil on the site where the new BCAA auto service centre is being built on the southwest corner of Main Street and Warren Avenue near Cherry Lane Shopping Centre. Constructed by Sawchuk Developments Co. Ltd. of Kelowna

An excavator removes soil on the site where the new BCAA auto service centre is being built on the southwest corner of Main Street and Warren Avenue near Cherry Lane Shopping Centre. Constructed by Sawchuk Developments Co. Ltd. of Kelowna

Even with the busiest January since 2012 now in the books and a wide range of projects underway around the city, no one seems ready yet to declare Penticton to be in the midst of a building boom.

“I’m almost superstitious enough I don’t want to issue those words,” the city’s economic development officer, Colleen Pennington, said with a laugh during an interview this week.

“But certainly we’re seeing robust activity and we’re really happy with the results.”

Last month, the city issued 41 building permits for construction valued at $5.6 million, well above the 36 permits worth $2.9 million it stamped in January 2014, which was up nearly triple from 2013.

“It tells a good story,” said Pennington, who suspects a “new culture” of less red tape at city hall may be partly to thank.

Builders are bullish, too, but also reluctant to declare the city has entered a new golden age of construction.

“The building industry in Penticton is experiencing positive growth. I’m not sure I would call it a boom, but 2015 is coming along nicely and the industry is definitely seeing growth,” Carol Sudchak, executive officer of the South Okanagan branch of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, said in a statement.

“There are many variables, yet undetermined —  price of oil, rate of the Canadian dollar, affordability and employment — (that) will all have an impact as the year unfolds,” she continued.

Among the construction projects already underway in Penticton are a new BCAA auto-service shop on the northeast corner of the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre site, plus a new Tim Hortons and gas bar across the street. All are expected to open in late summer.

Other works in progress include a handful of major residential property developments, a new Cannery Brewing Company building downtown, and a bridge across the Okanagan River channel to access a proposed development on the Penticton Indian Reserve.

And still on the horizon is the $325-million tower project at Penticton Regional Hospital that’s expected to break ground in 2016 and become the highest-value build ever in the South Okanagan.

“I like the fact that it’s diverse. That’s obviously good for an economy. That’s what I’ve been working towards,” said Pennington, adding a weakening Canadian dollar could help Penticton by attracting more domestic travellers who can’t afford to leave the country and foreigners looking to exploit the value of their currencies.

Meanwhile, the real estate market in Penticton is also coming off a banner year.

A total of 896 properties worth $290.2 million changed hands in 2014, up from 737 transactions worth $222.8 million a year earlier, according to statistics from the South Okanagan Real Estate Board.

SOREB president Sally Kilburg said pent-up demand for housing and an improving economy have buoyed the market.

“I think once the economic outlook improved, people felt a much greater degree of confidence,” she explained.

Kilburg said that newfound confidence is also reflected in increased construction activity.

“The appetite for building new housing has returned,” she said.

“I’m seeing a lot more investment in development over this past year and a lot more interest in the development side, and I’m assuming they’re doing their market research and making a decision based on the same numbers.”

If they do keep developing, they may be aided by a downturn in the Alberta energy sector, according to the head of the Southern Interior Construction Association.

“It always comes back to the availability of skilled workers,” said chief operating officer Bill Everitt. “And right now, and maybe the next year, skilled workers are coming back in droves due to the drop-off in the oil patch.”