A Yellowknife property developer has acquired iconic downtown buildings and plans to construct an apartment building consisting of 60 affordable and environmentally-friendly units.
Range Lake Developments Ltd. has purchased the 50-50 Mini Mall, Dawn Building, Graham Bromley Building, Gondola Building and Day Shelter Building for an undisclosed amount, said company president Biswanath Chakrabarty, on Wednesday.
The five properties were purchased from Bromley & Sons Ltd, said Chakrabarty. The sale closed on Feb. 26.
Chakrabarty said his company is in the process of acquiring a sixth property, but he declined to identify its location.
Four of the properties and three parking lots in downtown Yellowknife were put on sale in July 2020 for a combined total of $7.6 million. Bromley & Sons had owned the 50-50 mall and Graham Bromley Building since 1997, and the Gondola Building since 2003.
A representative of Bromley & Sons wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The acquisitions help keep all facets of business development inside the NWT, Chakrabarty explained.
“It brings jobs because we’ll create jobs for people who take care of and maintain the buildings, like carpenters and janitors. And we’ll pay corporate taxes here. Everything stays here,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer that encouraging local landlords will increase business opportunities for local business and create employment and tax revenue. We can do that if the government helps us.”
Part of his development plan is building an apartment complex of about 60 units in downtown Yellowknife.
He hopes to access a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation grant to build the structure, which he said will be affordable for professionals, bachelors and couples who earn less than $100,000 per year.
“In Yellowknife it’s difficult to grow. To keep staff here is challenging,” he said. “Rent can be hard to afford for many people. We need affordable housing here. We can have self-contained units in the rooms and it can be 20 per cent cheaper than market rent.”
For the environmental aspects of the building, the aim will be to keep heating costs low by possibly incorporating technologies such as solar energy or pellet boilers.
Chakrabarty is considering two locations for the apartment: the lot where the Gondola Building and former Day Shelter sits on 51 Street and a spot in the “heart of downtown” that he won’t yet disclose.
Construction could start in summer 2022, he said.
The property plans of Range Lake Developments, initially announced on Facebook on March 12, came three days after Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson raised concern about leasing from southern property owners who have little interest in community development.
“Thousands of our housing units and millions of dollars worth of commercial office space are owned by southern REITs or various southern multibillion dollar investment funds. These landlords have long treated real estate as an investment rather than the offices and homes we work and live in,” Johnson said.
The MLA said those dollars could be going to local landlords, Indigenous development corporations and to “anyone willing to make sure that our government’s rent money stays in this territory.”
Chakrabarty said he strongly supports Johnson’s comments in the assembly.
“We have to go back to the basics,” he said. “In Yellowknife there are businesses with head offices in big cities in the south. But where are they paying their corporate taxes? We need businesses in Yellowknife where profits stay here and corporate profits stay here.”
Commenting on the sale of the five properties in Yellowknife, Johnson said that when the portfolio initially went up for sale he assumed it would end up in the hands of a southern REIT.
But he was pleasantly surprised to learn a local owner took it on.
“I wish them all the luck in developing these,” he said. “(It’s) getting harder and harder to find locals willing to put that much capital into Yellowknife and this seems to align well with GNWT and city priorities.”