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Rediscovering the Thompson

Peter Mitham, Western Investor- September 2005

A quiet night on the Thompson River after several trips back and forth to Kamloops clinched Toronto developer Ted Snider’s decision to make the move to B.C.’s Interior.

“I would leave Kamloops and I’d be sitting on the flight back to Toronto and I noticed I was really relaxed,” said Snider, who was born and raised in Toronto and never thought he would consider living anywhere else.

But in July 2004, he decided to move his wife and his family to the city where his company, Ovation Development Corp., recently commenced developing the first phase of a 600-unit residential community complete with recreational facilities and retail shops. This summer, Snider found a house and the family moved out to what he describes as “a city in transition.”

“I see a lot of opportunities here,” he said, as did Ovation project manager Mickey Frenklach and communications director David Zigelman, who have also moved out with their families.

For Kamloops, the decision Snider and the Ovation’s other executives made to relocate echoes that of legendary geographer David Thompson, who ventured in to the territory two centuries ago to explore and map the region for the North West Co.

Thompson’s groundbreaking work led to the development of several traders’ forts on the site of present day Kamloops at the juncture of the North and South Thompson Rivers.

Most aren’t about to claim that Ovation’s work will start a spark of similar flurry of development in the area 200 years later but the project is the largest residential development Kamloops has ever seen.

Set for construction over the next five to seven years at a total cost of $170 million, Orchards Walk will have 58 homes in its first phase. Located just east of the city on a 60-acre tract overlooking the South Thompson River, the homes will start at $199,000 and utilitize geothermal energy. The green sheen is an added benefit for purchasers of the strata-titled units, who are expected to save upwards of 40 per cent on heating costs.

Local Sales Strong

But it’s not as if the units need the cachet of a sustainable energy to attract prospective buyers.

Ross Spina, president of the Kamloops and District Real Estate Association, said residential sales in Kamloops during the first seven months of this year were up seven per cent over the same period of 2004, which itself was a record year. Total sales last year were 2,855 homes, a 26-per-cent increase over 2003 sales, which totaled 2,266 homes.

The median selling price of homes is also up, currently running at $215,000 this year versus $180,000 last year. For strata-titled townhomes, prices are running at $150,000 to $200,000 indicating Orchard’s Walk is entering the market at an attractive price point.

But despite the demand for the kind of product Ovation is introducing at Orchard’s Walk, Spina is skeptical that the project- and others like it- will have a significant impact on the local market.

While Ovation’s Snider hears regularly that Kamloops is The Next Big Thing in B.C. real estate, Spina still considers Kamloops as a working towns rather than a retirement or recreational community. What is does offer are the benefits of strong transportation links to Alberta and the Lower Mainland and the recent opening of Thompson Rivers University.

The importance of Orchard’s Walk- and that of other local development projects- will have the greatest impact on long-term prospects for the Kamloops market, Spina said. He doesn’t expect they’ll unleash a tide of development or any sudden increase in the caliber of homes changing hands, since it will take years for the Ovation build-out to complete.

Future prospects are also helping drive the recent surge in sales of lots in the Thompson River Estates, a 35-minute drive west of Kamloops near Cache Creek.

Bare Land Lots

New Westminster-based Niho Land and Cattle Co. has marketed the properties since 2001, but the recent discovery of an aquifer under the site has helped boost sales to just over 70 per cent. A year ago, sales were languishing at 15 per cent.

But Niho’s sales manager Walter Aguilar said the quest by younger couples for affordable development sites has been an equally significant factor in helping lift sales.

“This year there’s really been increasing interest in property from Kamloops to Cache Creek.,” Aguilar said. “The pricing has really just gone through the roof.”

That’s made the 52 lots that compose the Thompson River Estates appealing to younger couples, who can secure five to 10 acres for between $30,000 to $100,000, Aguilar said. Those prices give them a foothold in a market Niho expects to see doubling in prices within seven years.

Aguilar said some younger couples see local lots as an investment that guarantees them a home in the future regardless of what they can afford today, and a property that’s large enough to accommodate their dreams.

“They’re looking to buy their retirement home or recreational property first,” Aguilar said. “It’s a place for people who have some kind of vision.”