Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

BEFORE DEVELOPMENT – The interior of the building that formerly housed the Food Fair and Super Value grocery stores now looks like this. Inset Jared Slipp

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Photo by Photo Submitted

AFTER DEVELOPMENT – Artist’s depictions of parts of the planned Yukon Innovation Hub are seen here.

Entrepreneur, innovators to receive a new hub

The former Food Fair grocery store is getting a multimillion-dollar makeover.

By Chuck Tobin on March 15, 2018

The former Food Fair grocery store is getting a multimillion-dollar makeover.

It’s being turned into a central location for entrepreneurs and innovators to foster new ideas and technologies to help diversify the Yukon’s economy.

The Yukon Innovation Hub will bring together YuKonstruct’s makerspace in the Marwell area and its co-space downtown.

It will see Yukon College take up 4,000 square feet or 20 per cent of the area for staff from its Cold Climate Innovation centre and other academic disciplines, depending on the discussion of the day.

The Yukon Development Corp. will rent out 1,000 square feet to relocate its offices there from Main Street.

The project was unveiled by dignitaries inside the old store – last used as a Super Valu outlet – Wednesday morning.

It’s scheduled to be ready for occupancy July 1, following a $3.4-million-plus renovation that’s been underway since the seven-year lease was signed Jan. 1 with Northern Vision Development.

Gone is the Food Fair courtesy counter with the plump hotdogs spinning on the rotisserie.

There’s no wall separating the retail floor of aisles and shelves from the shipping and receiving area.

There are no aisles and shelves. Just open space for now, except the clusters here and there of new plastic plumbing pipes protruding from rectangles cut into the old cement slab.

A floor plan displayed at the unveiling shows a layout of offices and workspaces.

The college area includes three classrooms.

The project was described as a model partnership between the private and public sectors to create new opportunities for the territory’s economy.

Executive director Jaret Slipp of the YuKonstruct Makerspace Society said the non-profit organization identified the need for a larger location in its 2016 strategic plan.

“Since a group of volunteers launched the idea of a makerspace in early 2014, and we opened (co)space in the fall of 2015, we have seen 600 members and volunteers come through our spaces,” he told the gathering.

Slipp said there are currently 160 active members taking ideas and turning them into reality every day.

“Our vision for this place is to be a centre for creativity and innovation,” said Slipp.

“This will be a place where you can bring your idea and it will get attention.

“It will get support from us and our partners, it will get feedback and ideas from your peers, and it will grow into something bigger and better than you imagined.”

While the arrangement calls for a seven-year lease, Slipp said YuKonstruct expects and hopes to there longer than that.

Planning for the new hub began last July, he said.

The Yukon government has committed $1.9 million to the renovation while Ottawa has put up $1.5 million.

A further multi-year commitment of $1.3 million has been provided by Northern Vision, the Whitehorse-based business whose real estate holdings include the Yukon Centre strip mall.

Northern Vision CEO Rich Thompson told the audience renovations of the old space have provided the company with the impetus to invest in refreshing the entire mall.

“That helps with the look and feel of downtown Whitehorse, and we are very excited to be part of this project,” he said.

The project, said Thompson, has been an example of how partnerships should be built.

He said the effort to strengthen local innovation dovetails with the upward swing in the territory’s economy.

“This really is the best time to invest in a new business,” he said.

Of the financial support Northern Vision has committed, $700,000 will go toward an operating contribution over five years, $450,000 will go toward the renovations and $200,000 will be provided in sponsorship over five years.

Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell emphasized how supporting the new Yukon Innovation Hub is important to inspire diversity.

Pillai told the audience when he was in Toronto last week attending the country’s largest mining conference, he made time to visit the city’s leading edge innovation hubs.

The Yukon Innovation Hub, he said, will provide entrepreneurs with the support they require to advance their ideas – all under one roof.

“We can have a real impact on the economy,” he said.

“Those of you who have been to the current home of YuKonstruct Makerspace and its sister facility (co)space, know how much these have been incredibly positive and valuable environments to foster innovation,” Bagnell said in his address.

The Liberal MP said providing Yukoners with the opportunity to realize their full potential is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.

YuKonstruct’s executive director listed off several examples of success that began inside the doors of makerspace and (co)space, including a project that was selected last year for a $100,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize.

Slipp recognized Northern Vision for taking a lead in bringing together the Yukon Innovation Hub project, just as he thanked ongoing supporters from the private sector while encouraging others to become involved.

It is the volunteers and members who provide the life-blood of YuKonstruct, who bring forward the bold ideas and take the risks for the future, he told the audience.

“It is you who help each other grow,” Slipp said. “It is you who we are coming together to support.

“We know that a small percentage of ideas make it out the gate.

“But when there is an environment that can protect those ideas from early stage barriers and foster an environment of collaboration and support, we drastically improve the odds of success.”

Comments (9)

Up 5 Down 2

AL on Mar 20, 2018 at 3:07 pm

That sound you hear is the toilet flushing with our tax money. Can only imagine the cost of renovations let alone the O & M and salaries!!

Up 7 Down 1

martin on Mar 16, 2018 at 7:10 pm

This tells me more about that dying mall than the fact that those NGOs are getting together. I am almost sure there are other venues, cheaper somewhere in our beautiful city.

Up 7 Down 1

Karl on Mar 16, 2018 at 6:37 pm

Seems like an awful lot of tax dollars going to support a few people's hobbies.

Up 5 Down 1

Conflict? on Mar 16, 2018 at 4:20 pm

Aren't there many conflicts of interest between the owners of the building (NVD) and YG and Yukon College? I'm not saying this is a bad thing to have this but with so many public funds being used, it just seems like the rich getting richer on the government dollar.

Congrats to (co)space and group though--awesome for them! What an amazing opportunity.

Up 6 Down 1

ProScience Greenie on Mar 16, 2018 at 2:24 pm

The Makerspace thing is great in many ways. No issues with that. However it sure seems like a lot of money is being spent. As with almost everything involving government, NGOs and Yukon College there is a super high chance of excess bloat, waste, inefficiency with very little show except people with big egos patting themselves on the back for doing very little and asking for more money. Hope this project can be an exception.

Up 2 Down 1

Reality check on Mar 16, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Seriously??? Early April fools?

Does this project bring more retail competition and variety into Whitehorse?
More storefront space wasted for offices and more offices?

Could somebody explain in detail how it will help to create more "normal" jobs and help people to find employment with a decent wage to afford living up there?

Innovations? Ideas? Well, as long you have a lot of money and a buddy at the right place who is creative in "bending some rules"...

Welcome to the future - Whitehorse, the Government City!!!

Up 0 Down 0

Josey Wales on Mar 16, 2018 at 9:27 am

Wow...that lifts the special interest bar up a few notches, just wow!
If they really wish more political accolades, they could 3D print up a revolutionary new liver design.
government funded ones, that have been loitering in that very spot with impunity for 30 years, must be worn out?

Up 4 Down 2

Juniper Jackson on Mar 15, 2018 at 11:21 pm

NVD huh?

Up 5 Down 4

Doug Caldwell on Mar 15, 2018 at 5:57 pm

It’s nice to see this kind of cooperation among government, business and the not for profit community working together for our mutual benefit. Yukon volunteers are remarkable and do a great deal to enrich our communities in so many ways. Government investment is always welcomed too of course, what greater vote of confidence is there? I also hope the private sector business community become larger partners in some of the projects that will be created there. I wish you all success at every level and hope this enterprise will encourage similar partnerships.
Doug Caldwell
President, Volunteer Bénévoles Yukon

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