Richie Bhamra has proposed that his undeveloped lot in Fernie on Highway 3 could be suitable place for a new fire hall. Photo/Google Earth

Land owner proposes highway lot for fire hall development

Richie Bhamra has long since moved away from his childhood town of Fernie, but never took his finger off the pulse of what happens.

The now Senior Vice President of CBRE Limited in Calgary has made a name for himself in the commercial real estate industry and continues to seek out new opportunities in the Fernie area.

The 37-year-old has proposed a solution to the City of Fernie which he believes would benefit both the City and the residents in the area.

In a letter sent to Mayor and Council in August, Bhamra outlined his proposal to build the City a firehall in a turn key solution, on a recently acquired piece of land on Highway 3.

The City of Fernie has proposed to upgrade their firehall facility for years, mainly due to a lack of space with no option to expand. The building has not been upgraded since it was built 34 years ago and according to a feasibility study presented to City of Fernie council in November, the hall no longer meets industry standards.

In Calgary, Bhamra’s job is similar to a residential realtor, but on a much larger scale. A broker since 2012, he has been exposed to many different aspects of real estate.

Bhamra and his team are currently ranked the number one brokerage in Calgary for investment in commercial real estate. In 2018, they completed 96 per cent of all downtown office transactions, totalling $750M in sales. In addition, between their office, industrial, retail and multi-residential property sales, the group totalled $1.3B in sales.

“I never thought I’d be doing it, but it’s pretty exciting,” said Bhamra.

This is the commercial side of Bhamra’s life; outside of this are personal investments, including several properties in Fernie, the town he still calls his home.

“Fernie has always been very near and dear to me, and us, and we try to do good things there,” he said.

One year ago, Bhamra acquired a piece of land which includes the Red Apple, as well as the undeveloped lot beside it.

“There has not been a building on that lot, ever,” said Bhamra. “The vacant land, we have the ability to develop basically anything we want on there, it’s pretty flexible land use. And I think the City would be on board to develop something there.”

In addition to wanting the highway corridor to be fully developed, Bhamra says this could be an ideal spot for a new firehall.

He says he’s willing to build the City of Fernie a firehall as long as his group understands the specifications required in the build.

The idea came to him after hearing some of the concerns relayed to him by business owners and real estate agents in the area, who Bhamra says were concerned about the current proposed location of the new firehall.

The City of Fernie has proposed to build a new firehall in the empty lot across from Fernie 901 on 2nd Avenue; the school that Bhamra attended in his youth. He says the proposed lot across from the old school, known to him as the old soccer field, could be used to eventually extend and densify 2nd Avenue.

Eight original choices for a location of a new firehall have been presented to council in the past, and since narrowed down to one option: 902 2nd Avenue.

Some of the concerns about the proposed location that Bhamra has heard include the elimination of future downtown development, as well as the distance of the firehall from the highway. Bhamra proposed the location on his highway lot to better serve the community and reduce the number of emergency vehicles travelling through the downtown area during an emergency call.

The only other highway location for the new firehall that was proposed to council was at 600 Highway 3, which was eliminated by council as they, “… (did) not wish to pursue relocating the Rotary Park to build a firehall, thus that option became eliminated.”

Look back:

“I simply wrote an email to the mayor and the councillors and I said listen hey, we’re long time residents, we want the best for Fernie,” explained Bhamra.

Included in Bhamra’s email was an informal invitation to meet and talk about the possibility of future development on his highway lot.

“I said if we’re able to assist with anything, we’re completely on board,” said Bhamra. “We have this site, we’re willing to build the City of Fernie a firehall, cost effective, turn key solution, as long as we understand the specs and all that kind of stuff on this site.”

Bhamra said the City turned down his offer to meet, explaining to him that they’re still in the process of ‘trying to understand what they’re going to do with the new firehall.’

“We’ve put that in the City’s court, we just don’t know what they’re going to do with it,” said Bhamra.

“And we’re not saying hey, build here, this is the only place, there’s plenty – there’s options. But just be open,” added Bhamra. “We’re saying hey, we’re here to help, we will be open-book with the development and we can build a turnkey solution for you on this site.”

In a statement to The Free Press, the City of Fernie said they had not received a formal proposal from Mr. Bhamra regarding a turn-key fire hall on the vacant property he owns on Highway 3.

Mayor Ange Qualizza explained that to ensure current project get the appropriate level of resources to set them up for success, Council determined that any exploration of the Fire Hall Project would not happen until 2020.

“Right now, our primary goal is supporting the application of the Multi-Purpose Community Centre,” she said. “We look forward to a fulsome project review in 2020 further exploring any potential sites and partnership opportunities.”

According to a City spokesperson, they are currently focused on the delivery of capital project approved for 2019. The Fire Hall Project, they explained, has been identified in Strategic Priorities and the Five-Year Financial Plan as a capital project for 2020.

Come 2020, the spokesperson explained that, “City resources will be dedicated to project planning to ensure long-term success for this important initiative…” which would include further considerations for possible project sites or partnerships.

According to the spokesperson, the City of Fernie’s Purchasing Policy requires that, “any procurement of project services from external contractors or project partners be done through a formal Request for Proposal.”

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