Carcross throws caution to the wind with condos

Justin Ferbey wants Carcross youth to stay in Carcross. So the Carcross Tagish Management Corporation CEO is proposing condos.

CARCROSS

Justin Ferbey wants Carcross youth to stay in Carcross.

So the Carcross Tagish Management Corporation CEO is proposing condos.

The condos are part of a planned Main Street retail village – nine two-storey buildings, with space on the ground floor – for shops, bars and restaurants, with residential condos and small-business spaces above.

But some local residents are afraid it could turn into an “Indian skid row.”

“There are whiskey flats all over the world, and the potential is definitely here if they only sell one piece of property,” said resident Linda Henry at a public meeting in Carcross on Wednesday night.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation is planning to purchase a half-hectare parcel of property from the Yukon government in order to build the retail village and condos.

But to make it viable, the condos have to be sold in advance, said Ferbey.

“The challenge is the cost of building in Carcross is the same as Whitehorse, but rent is nowhere near what it is in Whitehorse, so you don’t have a great financial return,” he said.

As a result, Ferbey is calling the planned retail village “a patient” investment.

But some residents are worried it may be a little too patient.

“It’ll be a slow death,” said local developer and Caribou Hotel owner Jamie Toole.

“Even after pre-selling the condos, all that profit will be absorbed in the construction costs.”

Toole would rather see the corporation build single-storey retail space and scrap the condos.

Trouble is, the corporation “can’t afford to build the retail space without the money from pre-selling the condos,” said Ferbey.

And if the condos don’t sell?

“Then it’s plan B or C,” he said.

Plan B would see modular cabins built based on demand. These units would share a wall to cut costs, much like a strip mall.

But it’s Plan C that has local outfitter Dustin Davis excited.

This option would see mobile retail trailers parked on the land.

Davis has 25 canoes and 13 sea kayaks sitting on his lot in the Watson subdivision.

But the owner of Cabin Fever Adventures can’t find retail space in Carcross.

“If we’re invisible, no one’s going to know we’ve got all these canoes and kayaks,” he said.

That’s where a trailer to sell tours and rental equipment comes in.

“Justin (Ferbey) and I have the same goal – we’re trying to build business opportunities here,” said Davis. “Justin is trying to build an economy in this community and that’s a really positive thing.”

Ferbey doesn’t want to cater only to the tour buses that bring roughly 100,000 people through the town each year. They stop to use the washroom and buy ice cream, he said.

And would a retail village convince them to stay longer?

“Probably not,” said Ferbey.

Instead, he wants to cater to “a niche market.”

Carcross has internationally recognized mountain bike trails, a beach and cultural products. If it had more shops and a few restaurants, Ferbey thinks it could lure day trippers from Skagway and Whitehorse as well as foreign tourists.

The retail village can’t just cater to summer tourism, he said. “It’s only viable if it’s year round. We need to develop a year-round economy.”

But Harold Gatensby is not sure it will help local First Nations.

“It’s an awkward thing because there’s this ambition for success, but we’re destitute,” said the Carcross First Nation citizen.

“We have one of the highest unemployment rates of any community in the Yukon and there have been lots of projects here, but I haven’t seen people from the community working on them.

“I’m not opposed to development but I think we’re putting the cart ahead of the horse.”

Whose vision is this? Gatensby asked.

“We need a community vision,” he said.

This also worries Crag Lake resident Gisela Niedermeyer.

“There is not a cross-section of Carcross at this meeting,” she said, pointing out there were few youth or First Nations at the community meeting.

“Living in a town as poor as Carcross, people are more worried about putting food on the table than coming to meetings,” she said. “We need to make this process more inclusive.”

The First Nation got the land for the retail village in a last-minute trade.

A government contract on Carcross/Tagish First Nation land went over the allotted $2-million limit. When a contract on First Nation land exceeds $2 million, the government must involve the First Nation in employment or business opportunities, according to the final agreement.

“But we found out the contract was way over late,” said Jerome McIntyre, the Yukon’s land planning director. So instead of hiring local First Nations or getting First Nation businesses involved in the pricey contract, the government worked out a trade with Carcross/Tagish, offering to extend its downtown land lease with an option to buy.

“It was convenient for the Yukon government to trade land in lieu of benefits for the First Nation people,” said local Crag Lake resident Lawrie Crawford in an email.

“But the whole thing is questionable,” she said. “Land Claims was lazy in their solution and they threw public interest to the wind.”

People are skeptical and they should be, said Ferbey. “Every investment is always a risk and Carcross is hugely risky. But you won’t get a return without a risk.

“This is a little town and it could work. But it needs to be year-round. And it will only work if the product is valuable, if it’s unique, looks nice and if it is community- and First Nations-driven.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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