Right now it looks more like a rocky moonscape with a few stands of evergreens.
But the Conception Bay South town council hopes within five years, the 100-acre Gateway business park will be full of box stores, strip malls and other businesses.
The town officially opened its long awaited commercial district at the top of Legion Road in Kelligrews Tuesday.
“I’ve always believed in the philosophy (of) when you build it they will come,” Mayor Woodrow French told reporters after officially opening the park.
The town decided to develop the park on its own after negotiations with a developer fell through a few years back.
“We started off with a developer, and we worked with that developer, (but) as a result of the times and other things beyond our control the developer couldn’t put the deal together to the satisfaction of themselves and to the town,” French told a packed room overlooking the rink at the Robert French Memorial Arena, just a stone’s throw from where the Gateway will take shape.
The park’s first tenant, Kent building supplies, will begin construction of its box store this spring.
The park will cost C.B.S. an estimated $7.2 million to develop, which includes water and sewer upgrades that French said had to be done anyway. The town’s goal is to recoup that money within five years through the sale of commercial lots, and from new business taxes paid by the park’s future occupants.
French said taxes won’t be raised to complete the development.
He told reporters that both small, local businesses and large national developers have already expressed an interest in the park.
“This is an area where these stores will want to locate,” said the mayor.
Site work and service installation is underway and ahead of schedule due to a mild fall, according to French.
And the interest in the Gateway is growing, though French wouldn’t get into specifics about who may set up shop.
He said the town’s been contacted by a Montreal company interested in setting up a strip of shops, and a number of auto parts retailers have also approached the town.
This weekend, French and two members of the town’s staff will travel to Whistler, B.C. to attend a development conference where the group will promote the park and look for potential tenants.
It will be the first in a series of marketing trips.
With 50,000 customers on the park’s doorstep, French isn’t concerned about selling the commercial space.
The Liberal MP for Avalon, Scott Andrews, called the Gateway a truly regional development.
“When you look at the bypasss road which is now (being built and) going into Holyrood, you would not believe how many people from St. Mary’s Bay and throughout Conception Bay Centre come to Conception Bay South to do business and to shop,” he said.
French said the opening of the park is a coming of age for the town, almost 30 years after it was formed by the amalgamation of nine smaller communities, including Foxtrap, Long Pond and Topsail.
“We’re growing so rapidly and we’re now getting people that are demanding services that are expected in a town of this size,” he said.
But French also said the Gateway won’t be a typical box-store enclave.
“It will be an unusual blending of recreational activities as well as the shopping experience,” French said, noting that the traditional uses of the land — including hiking and farming — will be incorporated into the development.