The Kelowna branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is in talks with UBC Okanagan about selling its property to the university and moving into the new 43-storey vertical campus.
Legion officials see the possible move as a way to rejuvenate the organization, boost its membership, and greatly increase its revenue from food and beverage operations.
“It would be my dream come true for us to get into that new tower,” Legion president Darlene McCaffery said Wednesday in an interview.
“We could really prosper and when we prosper, the community prospers,” McCaffery said. “We’ve been talking to the university people for some time, there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about the value of our land, but I think discussions are really going to speed up in the very near future.
“But whatever happens to the Legion, it’s up to us,” McCaffery added. “If we can’t do a deal that’s right for us, well then we’ll just continue working with what we’ve got.”
The university has city approvals to begin construction on the 43-storey tower at 550 Doyle Ave., a project announced more than two years ago.
The Legion property is across an alley from the site, at 1380 Bertram St.
It’s .4 of an acre in size, and has an assessed value of $3.3 million, of which $2.8 million is in the land.
Dozens of Legion branches, plagued by falling membership and financial problems, have closed across Canada in recent years.
McCaffery said the Kelowna branch is in reasonable shape, with more than 700 members, and a steady stream of revenue from food and beverage sales.
But upkeep of the 50-year-old, one-storey building is a challenge, she said.
“The place is two-bitting us to death. There’s constantly repairs, repairs, repairs,” she said.
Some Legion members suggest simply selling the site and relocating elsewhere, but McCaffery said they likely couldn’t find a suitable space with the proceeds they’d get from the sale of their property.
And there’s some concern that if the Legion doesn’t do a deal with the university, the organization could find itself in the future with a relatively small property sandwiched between other planned and possible highrises.
“Then our property would never be near what it is worth now,” she said. “It would be in the middle of everything and no contractor would want to buy it.”
However a possible deal with UBCO might evolve. Legion members are determined that the organization should own space in the new tower, not lease premises on a long-term basis.
“We will always own whatever we get before we make any deal. That just won’t happen,” she said. “We don’t ever want to be a tenant. A lot of people have worked for years to pay for the property we have now. We’re not selling this dirt, unless we get an equal amount of dirt, so to speak, in the new building, and we own it free and clear.”
The new university campus will be a hive of activity day and night, with nearly 500 residential suites above about 10 floors of academic space.
“We could get so many new members, particularly young ones,” McCaffrey said. “And not just members. There’d be a lot of potential customers for our bar.”
Any commercial business, such as a restaurant or pub, would likely be profitable almost immediately in the new university tower.
It’s unclear if the university would want the Legion to run such an operation, or turn to a business with a higher commercial profile, and simply provide the Legion with meeting space in the new building.
Nor is it clear if, or how, the university’s possible acquisition of the Legion site would affect plans already approved for the downtown campus.
Representatives of UBC Okanagan have not responded in the past week to repeated requests for information about the university’s discussions with the Legion.