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District officially takes over former 'Buy Low' building

Although the final tenants of the district's new downtown building as still to be confirmed, officials have major plans for 7337 Welton St – including creating a technological centre of excellence, housing the B.C. Winter Games, and potentially even moving some District of Mission functions to the building.

The district purchased the approximate 11,000 sq. ft. building – central to the district's downtown revitalization plan – for $1.95 million in December.

Just an hour after officially taking possession of the former Buy-Low Foods building on Friday, Mayor Ted Adlem cut the red ribbon during an opening ceremony and staff, councillors, and members of the public wandered the spartan rooms and strategized how best to use them.

Downtown business association board president Carlo Billinger congratulated the councillors on the purchase on Friday.

"There's a lot of talk in the past, but you guys are the first ones that actually made the difference..It's a courageous step to take, because you have to justify what you're doing, and I believe…we can come up with a long term plan that will show the people that this was a right decision to do. Great big thank you for stepping to the plate."

The first new tenant will be the B.C. Winter Games, which will stage its command centre in the front 5,266 sq. ft. space from next week through to the games themselves on Feb. 20 to 23.

The building's sole existing tenant, the Fraser Valley Child Development Centre, will remain in the back 3,000 sq. ft., out of which the non-profit provides services to children with developmental needs.

Other plans are less solidified, with district officials actively negotiating to bring exciting new tenants to the space.

The first is to set up a technological centre of excellence in the front of the building. The centre – a brand new concept for Mission – would be an incubation facility for emerging information and communications technology (ICT) companies, where the companies would receive help from the non-profit Sumas Regional Consortium of High Tech in commercializing and marketing their products.

A study by Mission's Economic Development Select Committee identified ICT as a niche opportunity for the city a few years back. Tech companies are growing, have a low resource footprint, and provide high-paying jobs, explained Stacey Crawford, economic development officer with the District of Mission.

At the same time, Mission provides a location that is more affordable than other tech enclaves in the Lower Mainland, such as Burnaby and Surrey, while being close enough to a major commercial centre, Vancouver.

Crawford admits it is a leap of faith, but "we do believe we have the environment that these specialists tend to want to be around and live in, and we are taking advantage of that."

The district is in talks with Ray Szabada, president of i-Open Technologies and one of the pioneers behind the tech centre of excellence idea, to move his company to 7337 Welton St. as early as July. If the deal is signed, it would mean an immediate injection of a couple of dozen employees into the downtown.

Another vision for 7337 Welton St. is to establish a small university campus in part of the building, ideally with the University of the Fraser Valley.

"They (UFV) are very favourable in looking at making a campus downtown," said Mayor Ted Adlem at the town hall on Jan. 30. "I don't know whether financially that's going to work, when it will work. That's a long term issue."

Finally, a more longer-term idea is relocating some District of Mission functions to the downtown.

"I think probably members of council that are here would agree with me that it might be a cool idea to have a District of Mission presence...so that we can actually say, 'We're really downtown and we want to do something,'" said Adlem on Friday.

At the town hall meeting, Coun. Tony Luck also mentioned a long-held dream of one day moving city hall to the downtown.

Welton St. opening ceremony

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