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B.C. union buys vacant Nelson heritage building

A British Columbia union has bought a heritage building in Nelson to serve as one of its area offices.

The BC General Employees’ Union recently purchased the Nelson Home Furniture building at 561 Josephine Street.

The location, described in a real estate listing as an “iconic granite building at the corner of Josephine and Victoria” with “endless development potential,” had been listed at $1.4 million and sold for just under the asking price.

In an interview with Vista Radio, Treasurer Paul Finch says they’re exploring how to use the 10,000 square feet inside the heritage building.

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“It’s a great location. We think that this property can be – it’s going to take a bit of effort – but it can be refurnished. We’re going to see what the density and height limits are from the city and see if that’s something we can work with to create something that’s a bit more than the union office,” Finch said.

One of those options could be affordable housing. The BCGEU bought 59,000 square feet of land next to a transit station in Burnaby and is building 292 housing units, a child care center and an area office. “Half of those units are going to be ‘below market’ affordable units in perpetuity. That’s an example,” Finch explained.

“If there’s an opportunity for us to potentially do something more than simply an area office in Nelson then we’re going to take that opportunity.”

Finch says they chose Nelson after a West Kootenay site search. He says the city is a “very central hub” with a nearby airport and accommodations. “One of the things we do as a union is we bring our members together and bring people together for conferences, that sort of thing.”

The Nelson building has been vacant for 11 years after a nearby fire at the Kerr Apartments caused heavy smoke damage. The inside was damaged and it will require major work.

The union plans to close its Castlegar office – a location it rents – and consolidate it with Nelson, once the Nelson office is open.

Since it’s in the early exploratory stage, there’s no timeline for any construction or opening of the office.

The BC General Employees’ Union has over 85,000 members province-wide.

“We’re a long term member of the community both in Nelson and in the West Kootenay. Our union has a long history and I think we’re hoping to have a long history further. This is something we’re looking forward to, basically working with the city and the community and our membership to determine what the best next steps are,” Finch said.

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