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New Castlegar development brings medical offices and housing to Pioneer Arena site

The development will be replace the Pioneer Arena
The closure of Castlegar’s Pioneer Arena has been expected since 2016. Photo: Greg Nesteroff

A major project planned for 925 Columbia Ave. will see the demolition of Pioneer Arena and the creation of modern clinical spaces for health care professionals as well as 45 housing units.

With one floor of the four-storey building dedicated to health care, the city says the project will see improved team-based care that will help attract and retain health-care professionals.

A memorandum of understanding with several partners is the culmination of years of work by multiple city councils to develop a concept that could deliver on two important community priorities – healthcare and housing.

“This is an exciting project announcement for the city, which sees us stepping outside of our traditional role to find a creative solution to improve access to healthcare services and ensure the mix of housing the community needs,” says Mayor Maria McFaddin.

The memorandum between the city, the Regional District of Central Kootenay, all current Castlegar physicians, healthcare administration provider Prima Health and commercial real estate management company Axis Projects will allow the project to move forward to the design and grant application phases.

The housing portion will feature a combination of affordable and housing units. A recent Castlegar housing assessment identified the need for an additional 464 housing units, especially smaller, more affordable, units suitable for seniors, young families, and those finding it difficult to enter the housing market.

The medical space will be designed after consultation with local physicians to determine the best way to co-locate services to offer improved team-based primary care. Initial plans include making space available for doctors and other health care providers such as pharmacies, massage therapists, physio therapists and more.

“We are proud to be working within the community of Castlegar,” says Ellen Smart, Castlegar physician representative. “We believe this new building will improve access to family physicians and enhance the ability to attract health professionals because team-based care is a very desirable model for new physicians.”

The project will be financed through a variety of sources.

The City of Castlegar will be leasing the land to the developers. It has also covered expenses related to preliminary planning and architectural work.

Since part of the housing spaces will be designated as affordable housing, the city will also be applying to BC Housing for grants.

The commercial spaces will be rented out at market rates as will a portion of the housing units.

The mayor says that construction should begin within an 18-month to three-year window.

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Pioneer Arena

At 66 years old, the Pioneer Arena was already in its last days. In 2016, the RDCK determined the arena had reached its end of life and that any major repair would trigger its decommissioning.

The arena will now close for good at the end of this winter’s ice season.

“We recognize this impact will be inconvenient and we are currently working with ice user groups to identify options to ensure they have ample time to prepare for the 2024-25 season,” said Joe Chirico, RDCK general manager of community services.

Castlegar’s chief administrative officer Chris Barlow said the city-owned property was chosen for this project because it has easy access from Columbia Avenue, is centrally located, close to the Castlegar Urgent and Primary Care Centre, Emergency Room, and Talarico Place, and is a flat site large enough to accommodate the project and future expansion.

“We do understand this has difficult implications for our ice users,” said McFaddin. “But that concern would have been there whether this project was happening or not. Yes, it is on that site, but this is not the reason the Pioneer was coming down in the first place.”

In the new year, the RDCK will begin talking to residents on the future of recreation services in Castlegar. Castlegar and Area I and J residents will have opportunities to share their thoughts on what they would like to see, and how much they are willing to pay for it, through a community consultation process. This will include meetings with ice user groups.

“The city and RDCK recognize the Pioneer Arena is an important space for ice users and has been the result of many community volunteer efforts,” said the city in a statement.

“The city plans to recognize the importance of this piece of history and would like to hear from people and groups who played a role in building and improving the Pioneer Arena.”

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Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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