The empty overgrown lots around Home Depot at the Eagle Landing shopping centre will be developed exclusively by Squiala First Nation, the band has confirmed.
That’s contrary to the original plan of developing the site in a partnership between Squiala and real estate developer League Assets Corp.
When first announced in 2009, Eagle Landing was billed to become B.C.’s largest unenclosed shopping complex, with a final size of 600,000 square feet.
Roughly two-thirds of this amount has been developed so far. While Home Depot nests behind a field of gravel and grass enclosed by temporary fencing, League Assets announced last week that it has completed all construction of the Eagle Landing project.
That’s because the partnership between Squiala and League Assets has been dissolved for the north site, which contains Home Depot and the remaining undeveloped land.
“The original intent of the project was to be a partnership throughout the entire site,” explained David Jimmie, Chief and CEO of Squiala First Nation. “Once we got about half-way through, just finishing up the Walmart area and the Shell location, the band decided as a council that we wouldn’t continue the partnership onto the second half of the project.”
Squiala will develop the northern site alone.
“Once we started learning more about the business and more about the opportunity, and whether or not we could finance it on our own, or whether we had enough equity to do it, once we figured out that we could, there was really no need for a partner,” said Jimmie.
The partnership remains for the south site around the movie theatre, and the east site around the Shell gas station.
League Assets says it backed out of partnering on the development of the northern portion because of low demand for commercial space.
“We just didn’t see the demand being there in the short term for more than what’s already now been built,” said CEO Adam Gant.
Squiala says that’s just an excuse, and disagrees that demand is a legitimate concern.
“They’re still asking, to this day, to be a part of the partnership. To keep the partnership going to the north,” said Jimmie.
The band learned about land development through its experience on the south site, and
completed a six-month risk analysis about developing the north on its own. The band discussed the plan with lenders and leasing agents before dissolving the partnership for the north.
“Our model was always to try to have ownership of the project. Even within the partnership, we have first right of purchase if any of our partners want to sell their share,” said Jimmie.
Jimmie is confident that the band can manage the development of the north site, and says it is “unfortunate” that other bands in other situations “don’t have capacity to do it right.”
Construction in the south and east has been completed. Leases for 97 per cent of space in the north and 87 per cent of space in the east are either committed or under negotiation. Recent new lease-holders include Kal Tire, which opened its doors this month, and Tim Hortons, to open in October.
Squiala will turn its focus on the north site after the south and east are completely leased. The band isn’t ready to disclose details on which businesses will take up residence in the north, but confirmed it will “continue along the same theme of commercial retail site.”
It is unclear whether the complex will ever meet the initial promise of being the largest shopping and entertainment centre of its kind in B.C.
All parties left open the possibility of a partnership for future developments.
“We wouldn’t exclude any partners if something were to arise which would stir up the options. It’s just right now we want to move forward and do it on our own,” said Jimmie.
League echoed the sentiment.
“We’re certainly open to (a partnership with Squiala First Nation). There’s just nothing on the go right now,” said Gant.