Brandon University updates downtown initiative

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When Brandon University was presented with the opportunity to acquire the former Strand Theatre building in 2016, the BU Board of Governors approved this purchase and with it the investigation of a possible significant BU presence downtown, including the acquisition of neighbouring properties, or the rights to them. This property assembly has been accomplished at modest cost to Brandon University — less than $200,000 in total for the assembly of seven contiguous parcels totaling nearly 70,000 square feet.

Developing any amount of land costs money. All combined, our initial condition report on the former Strand Theatre building, management of that site as well as management of the demolition, plus environmental assessments that were conducted on all properties, required a further Brandon University investment of under $100,000. Demolition of the former Strand Theatre building was quickly found to be required, and that demolition is currently wrapping up at a projected cost of less than $500,000. Costs of up to that amount for demolition will be recovered from the Brandon Downtown Development Corporation. To determine the best future opportunities for the site, Brandon University engaged with outside experts UWCRC 2.0, as well as their partners Prairie Architects, Manshield Construction and BW Ferguson and Associates, to develop a comprehensive pre-development report at a cost of just over $110,000. The total projected net expenditure for Brandon University is approximately $410,000.

This was a wise investment for BU to make in terms of due diligence and planning. It is the university’s responsibility to investigate the feasibility and possibility of any development before committing to it. The UWCRC 2.0 has a track record of successful projects in a similar Manitoba, post-secondary, downtown context. A six-figure investment is a modest pre-development cost for a nine-figure development, and within the range of other large BU initiatives, including planning for the potential Fleming housing development and the Campus Master Plan.

Brandon University has already obtained significant return on this investment. The pre-development report is a comprehensive examination of the possibilities for downtown initiative, and it outlines a number of possible development options. The consultants’ work included a housing study focused on student housing that can help guide any future residence development, which is a priority for the university. It also included an evaluation of BU’s academic spaces and needs from a community-engagement perspective, another priority. The report also clarifies the scale and scope of future development that can be accommodated on BU’s valuable parcel of downtown land, as well as confirming the types of funding that may or may not be available or required.

Community partnerships helped make this possible. Brandon University is grateful for the outpouring of broad community support for the concept of a downtown presence for Brandon University. Working with strong partners in the City of Brandon, the BDDC, and Servants of Service has reinforced for us the value of community engagement.

The pre-development report was presented to the BU Board of Governors at their last meeting. The Board is now considering the report while continuing to listen to the views of our stakeholders. The next Board meeting is scheduled for May at which time their discussions on the project will continue.

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