Plans are in the works to transform Powell River Airport.
At the Tuesday, February 18, City of Powell River Council committee of the whole meeting, councillors heard presentations regarding a development permit, which is a proposal to construct phase one of a mixed-use aviation park, valued at $3 million.
Director of planning services Thomas Knight introduced the project and provided a brief overview. He said the development permit pertained to a 4.65-hectare, or 11.49-acre parcel of land adjacent to the southeast of the existing terminal building. Knight said the project was the result of what the committee, and ultimately, what city council decided on in 2018, providing a tax bylaw that provided a 99-year lease to Gaoshi Holdings (Canada) Ltd. to assist in developing the property.
Knight said the committee would be seeing the first phase of a four-phase development.
“What you are going to consider as a committee today is the issuance of a development permit,” said Knight. “There are no rezonings, official community plans or any of those big types of development applications; it’s strictly a development permit.”
Knight said the design of the proposed facilities, which include a conference centre and hangar, is “pretty state of the art.”
He said planning services was in support of this application for two main reasons. The first is the quality of the design work. Knight said secondly, what was being proposed for the airport is going to give a real sense of arrival to the city.
Knight then handed the presentation over to Victor Gao, director and vice-president of Gaoshi Holdings.
Gao said the development being proposed was designed to bring more jobs and business in Powell River, focusing on aircraft storage, maintenance, pilot training and more. He said the business has been separated into four phases, with a six- to eight-year completion window.
Gao said phase one has a conference centre, on the airport terminal side of the building, and an aircraft hangar, adjacent to the east.
In terms of the conference centre, Gao said having a multifunctional building is crucial in the success of this project.
“As such, we have utilized a traveller accommodation concept when it comes to the design of this conference centre,” said Gao. “The size is about 11,000 square feet with split levels and open layout. Whether it is hosting a conference, a community event or even an expo or trade show, the idea for this building is to accommodate the demands of different functions.”
Gao said the centre could have amenities such as a coffee shop, restaurant, souvenir shop and meeting space.
“We have employed a west coast style approach, which incorporates a generous amount of thick wooden timbers,” said Gao. “It will feature designs of a natural focus, mixed with walls of glazing, vaulted ceilings and open architectural concept.
“We hope this conference centre can create an attractive entry point for those who come into the city by air.”
Gao said there will be an adjacent aircraft hangar and the focus will be maintenance and service, accommodating mid-sized jets to small propeller aircraft. He said the hangar will have three levels and total about 20,000 square feet.
“We are hoping this facility will attract new opportunities from different geographic areas,” said Gao. “Our goal is to provide an inviting environment for the city.”
If city council grants a building permit, phase one construction is set at 16 months, said Gao. If all permits are in place, Gao said construction could begin as early as summer 2020. The estimate for completion time would be Christmas 2021.
“Our estimated cost will be $3 million,” said Gao. “Our goal is to provide for transitioning to more jobs and positive economic impact.”
Councillor Rob Southcott asked what kind of businesses or activities would be going on in the hanger development.
“It really does look like a promising opportunity in our community,” said Southcott.
Gao said it is his hope to bring more opportunities for the city.
Mayor Dave Formosa asked Gao if he had been working with any companies to come here and rent from him. Gao said there were discussions with three different parties who are willing to come to Powell River by the end of phase one of the development.
Councillor George Doubt said the conference centre looks like a really nice airport arrival facility. He asked if that was one of the possible uses.
Gao said the conference centre has been designed for community events. He said, however, for those people waiting for flights, they can grab a coffee, or shop.
Councillor Maggie Hathaway was wondering who Gao was visualizing using the conference centre. Gao said he anticipated local and out of town people would make use of the facility.
Councillor Jim Palm, who chaired the committee of the whole meeting, said this was a giant step forward for the community.
“This is the future and this is a great example of what that could be when people come here for the first time,” said Palm. “We really very much appreciate phase one and look forward to phases two, three and four.”
Formosa said he’d been working with Victor Gao and his father for about two years on this project. He said it started with the hopes of the Gaos to manufacture small aircraft at the site. Formosa said there was also the opportunity for other aviation industry uses of the property because the Lower Mainland airports have run out of space.
The deal to purchase the manufacturing company the Gaos were trying to buy fell apart, said Formosa.
“It was very disappointing,” added the mayor. “We put a lot of work into it and the family invested a lot of money. I was very upset but I understand business and that’s the way it went.”
Formosa said he subsequently received a call from the Gaos, who wanted a meeting.
“They said, ‘you know what, we are going to build anyway,’” added Formosa. “They used the old adage: build it and they will come. This family has the means and the wherewithal and they are blessed with a solid business foundation.”
The committee recommended sending the matter to city council for approval.