Motorways development could start this summer

Four of the Motorways properties along the Whitehorse waterfront have been sold. The city put nine properties between First Avenue and Second Avenue, adjacent to Keish Street and Black Street, out for tender last month.

Four of the Motorways properties along the Whitehorse waterfront have been sold.

The city put nine properties between First Avenue and Second Avenue, adjacent to Keish Street and Black Street, out for tender last month. Bidding closed on April 5.

For one couple, the property purchase means they can come home.

Mel Johnson and his wife, Luann Baker-Johnson, currently live in Calgary. But the F.H. Collins alumni have been dreaming about returning to the Yukon for years, Johnson said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. They own property on Little Fox Lake and visit it every year with their family.

The couple purchased the corner property off the First Avenue walkway across from the Waterfront Trolley for just under $540,000. They plan on building an art studio, called Lumel Studios.

Luann is a ceramics and hot glass artist. The hope is to build a studio where artists from around the world can come, practise their art and teach others, said Johnson. The main focus will be on hot glass, but the studio will be used for many types of art, like ceramics and photography, he said.

They’ve been looking at city properties for years, and even considered buying the old Dairy Queen building. A few years ago, they saw the development happening along the waterfront and knew it would be a great fit, said Johnson.

“The real interesting thing about hot glass is watching the artists do it,” said Johnson. “So, the idea of having somewhere where people can come and watch, and also participate, is really important.”

Their vision also fits in with the city’s plan for the area. The city wants the waterfront developed for both residential and commercial use. The idea is to have interactive businesses that people can access from the sidewalk, said Mike Gau, the city’s director of planning. Zoning allows for up to half of the first floors of the buildings to be used for residences.

Developing the waterfront has taken a long time. A plan for the area was made in 1998. In March 2008, five properties were put up for sale, but no one bid on them. Developers found the zoning regulations, design guidelines and parking requirements too restrictive.

The city changed building requirements and put nine lots out for tender later that year. No bids were received then, either. The sale of these properties is just “one of the final pieces of that plan coming together,” said Gau.

He’s not too surprised that the remaining five lots didn’t sell, because Whitehorse is a pretty small market. But Gau expects they will sell in the near future, he said.

Cormode Dixon Construction (Yukon) Ltd. wants to build some residential units, and have some commercial and retail space on the property they purchased for $230,000. The designs are still being made, said Jacob Heigers, general manager of Yukon operations.

The building will likely be three storeys high, and construction could begin this summer or fall, said Heigers. The company plans to have several of the building components made off-site, so construction shouldn’t take too long, he said.

Mel Johnson and Luann Baker-Johnson are also gearing up for construction.

Luann has prepared drawings for the studio, and the couple has been talking with a local architect, said Johnson. They hope to begin building this fall and winter and have the studio open next year. Luann will be moving to the Yukon in June with their youngest daughter. A few artists will be moving here as well to help start the studio, said Johnson. The couple has much of their equipment here in storage.

They want to add to Whitehorse’s thriving artistic community, said Johnson. “We want to bring something to Whitehorse, and to Yukon, that it doesn’t have already,” he said.

Only four bids came in, and all were very close to the city’s asking price, said Cathy Small with the city’s land planning services. The Yukon Teachers’ Association purchased a property next to Black Street for $327,003 – only $3 more than the minimum price. The association did not return calls for comment.

James Maltby also purchased a property in the area. He was out of town.

Developers can withdraw from the sale up until July 12.

The remaining five properties will be put up for sale on May 6 at the minimum price listed. The prices range from just under $210,000 for the smallest lot to just under $790,000 for the largest. Interested buyers are to contact the city before 2 p.m. on May 6. A lottery will be held for properties with more than one bid, said Small. Any lots that aren’t sold that day will remain for purchase over-the-counter.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at