Westsyde Residents Cheer Mall Redevelopment

This article appeared in the Kamloops Daily News on November 15th, 2011.

Over the past two decades, Westsyde residents watched with melancholy resignation as stores closed at their mall and buildings fell into disrepair.

On Tuesday evening they greeted Overwaitea Food Group’s plans for redevelopment of Westsyde Mall with cheers and clapping. The company unveiled plans to a meeting of about 150 enthusiastic residents gathered at the Hamlets at Westsyde, who are clamouring for new life in the tired mall.

Tom Munro, vice-president of real estate and store development with Overwaitea Food Group, told the meeting the firm expects to start with demolition and construction in April next year. The existing store will be temporarily cut in half to allow shopping to continue while rebuilding on the same footprint is underway.

Refurbishment of Cooper’s Foods is at the heart of the project. Overwaitea Food Group purchased the grocery chain developed in Kamloops more than a decade ago. The Westsyde location is the final Cooper’s Foods to be updated with a look now familiar at other stores.

The proposed redeveloped store is about 25,000 square feet, the same size as current location.

The company is also actively seeking other tenants for what today is a half-empty mall that hasn’t been updated for decades. “We’d love to have a Tim Hortons and we’re working on that,” Munro said to applause. Other targets are a pharmacy, McDonalds Restaurant or Dairy Queen. A bank or credit union will also be sought, but Munro added “it isn’t likely.”

Residents said they were glad to see the investment. “I’m happy,” declared Herb Tarzwell, who has lived in the community for 17 years. “The previous owners never really looked after it. They hadn’t done any maintenance. It will be nice.”

Steve Delaney, a director of the local residents’ association, said the redevelopment is long overdue. “I’ve been here since 1975 and it’s deteriorated ever since,” he said. “We had a bank, a drug store… but everything moved up top to Aberdeen.”

Another resident, Patty Messmer, called the current mall “pretty sad.” “This is a big community out here. If this (current mall) is what represents Westsyde, it’s pathetic.”

Current tenants include Cooper’s Foods, a government liquor store, Home Hardware outlet, a hair salon and Chinese food restaurant. A number of storefronts are empty.

While Messmer said she’s pleased to see the plans, she worries about some current businesses. Munro acknowledged some tenants don’t have leases and are operating month-to-month. “I hope they don’t get priced out,” she said.

Munro declined to place a cost on the redevelopment. The current mall is about 60,000 square feet and will eventually, through a number of phases, be redeveloped to about the same size.

Delaney said he hopes the upgraded mall and new tenants will keep more residents shopping at home. “If it’s only $4 more here, it’s still cheaper to pay it than to drive into the city to get it.”

Purchase of the mall by the company comes after it failed to get an agreement on a nearby piece of land owned by Ron Cooper, whose family started Cooper’s Foods. Cooper and the company remain business partners at other locations.