The Tsawout First Nation is getting closer to realizing a vision that began 20 years ago.
“The Jesken Town Centre project is something that many people have been looking forward to for a long time,” said Tsawout band councillor Allan Claxton.
Claxton, a former chief of the Tsawout First Nation, has been a main player in the project since it started.
The project, estimated at around $185 million and set to begin construction this summer, has been through three different developers and had never been successful until recently, when the band paired with Property Development Group (PDG) out of Vancouver.
“The main issue over the years has been highway access,” said Claxton, adding that the newest plans have southbound access coming in with an overpass (paid for by Tsawout and PDG) from the Pat Bay Highway at Jus Kun Road and northbound access at highway grade.
Other ideas over the years, he said, have included accesses at Mt. Newton X Road and Island View Road, both which ultimately didn’t work for the area.
Tsawout’s Director of Economic Development, Vance Rosling, said the project will provide the Saanich Peninsula with economic stimulus as well as new jobs, especially for members of the Tsawout First Nation who will have the first shot at employment.
“We’ve written a covenant into the deal that will ensure the first jobs go to Tsawout band members who are qualified and work ready,” he said, adding that they estimate the number of permanent jobs created at 2,500 (construction jobs created through the project are estimated at around 500).
“It’s unique because these will be new jobs we’re creating on the Saanich Peninsula. We’re not cannibalizing from any other markets.”
Rosling noted the Saanich Peninsula is often viewed as being an under serviced area and the project will increase traffic numbers. He added the tenants in the project play a big role and that names should be released soon.
“Right now we have a really good idea of which retailers are going to be in here but we’ll know more in a few weeks,” he said.
According to most recent plans, the project will be a mix of large (big box), medium and small retail spaces made up of 31 separate buildings spread out over the 62-acre site (there will be an estimated 580,000 square feet of leasable space in the complex).
Environmental assessments have already been completed, Rosling said, and the complex will include a 21 metre riparian area through the centre which will protect Tetayut Creek.
Fire protection and some servicing for the site will be provided by Central Saanich who already have existing agreements with the First Nation.
“This is a significant development for the whole Saanich Peninsula and Central Saanich will work with the Tsawout First Nation to address any concerns and to identify potential synergies as the plans unfold,” said Central Saanich Mayor Alastair Bryson, adding that the municipality respects Tsawout’s desire to expand their economic base.
PDG has carved a niche working with First Nation communities, said Rosling, adding that other projects include malls in Kelowna (Westbank Towne Centre), Chilliwack (Chilliwack Mall) and the new project being built in Tsawaassen.
Tsawout and PDG are hoping to finalize agreements with Ministry of Transportation for the road changes by mid-March, Rosling said, and should all go according to plan, the project will break ground this summer and be completed in the spring of 2016.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming,” added Claxton.
“Sometimes we sit here and look at each other and go, ‘is this finally happening?’ It’s a good feeling after working on it for so many years.”