This final segment of a two-part series digs deeper into the downtown core to discover what local business owners and operators are most anticipating following the opening of the Innovation Centre.
Randy Zahara is no stranger to technology. As the manager of the Kelowna Community Theatre for well over a decade, Zahara has been an advocate of the significant upgrades the theatre has applied to its lighting, audio-visual, and technical services. Upon entering his new role, Zahara built relationships within the community to increase the number of shows the theatre hosted and partnered to develop. With attendance steadily rising, Zahara recalls that when he “first started, the average age was about 60-plus and now it’s closer to 45. We’ve added a lot more family friendly shows and shows for a younger crowd.” With annual attendance reaching 120,000 at its peak, he is optimistic about the future of the theatre. As a close neighbor of the Innovation Centre, Zahara notes that he “can envision working with the Innovation Centre to use social media and crowd-funding to bring new shows. You have a building full of entrepreneurial, gifted people that have a lot of skill and contacts... I would love to see us getting that kind of synergy going and I think it could do cool things for the performing arts in our community.”
In the heart of Kelowna’s cultural district sits the Rotary Centre for the Arts (RCA). With over 230,000 annual visits to the RCA, it’s likely you have attended one of the hundreds of theatrical performances, classes, exhibits, or special events on offer each year. Nearing his fifth year as General Manager at the Rotary, Patrick LeBlanc has been at the forefront of the venue’s evolution. When LeBlanc accepted the position, he recalls, “there was still a concept of Kelowna being more of a retirement town and our general demographic was 55-plus. What we do here is a lot more multicultural and a lot more multigenerational than it was before.” Having played host to numerous tech conferences, large-scale Accelerate Okanagan events, and the SugarPlum Ball hosted by Mayor Basran, the RCA is already an active supporter of what the Innovation Centre hopes to achieve. Leblanc shares that he has “talked to some people at the Innovation Centre about merging technology and arts. There was talk of hooking ballerinas up to electrodes and videotaping that and getting movement… I love the fact that we’re at the center of all of this dynamic stuff happening.” Awaiting the opening of the Innovation Centre and flanked by the museum, art gallery, public library and a wealth of other vendors, it appears the RCA truly has one of the best seats in the house.
When you’re an expert in your craft, clients will flock to you from regions near and far. Such is the case for Nicole Pidherny and her team of stylists at Pomme Salon. When founder Pidherny first opened the salon in 2015, she knew Ellis Street was the perfect place to make her mark: “I wanted to be centrally located with easy access from all over the Okanagan as we have clients come from Penticton through to Vernon. I also knew Ellis was the ‘next big area’. Pomme is a small business and I wanted to be surrounded by other local businesses that seek community growth.” Affectionately referred to as the Pomme Squad, Pidherny leads this young and creative group of professionals who have collectively amassed a style portfolio that their social media followers are quick to approve. With the Innovation Centre mere blocks from her storefront, Pidherny enthusiastically predicts that the new landmark is “going to bring our ideal client right to our doorstep. The Centre will help solidify Ellis as the cultural hub of the Okanagan. I'm looking forward to creating long-term relationships with these companies.” With its scissors sharpened and shampoo sinks shining, Pomme is poised to show off its skill on some fresh heads of hair.
It’s been operating for less than 2 years, but BNA Brewing Co. has quickly become a weekly watering hole for students and professionals of all ages. A rustic yet modern two-level restaurant and bar, the eatery features a full-length bocce court, a restroom that was nominated for a national award, and an onsite craft beer brewery with a tasting room. Owner-operators Kyle and Carolyn Nixon are heavily invested in the downtown core. Partners in both business and in life, the pair knew that no other location would suffice for their new venture after setting their sights on the former tobacco sorting facility, originally built in 1919. With both of them born and raised in Kelowna, Kyle recalls that “when we were 19 and would go out, downtown wasn’t an option, very rarely would we go there.” With the city center now flourishing, and as hands-on business owners, downtown is where they now spend the bulk of their time.
Kyle and Carolyn have met many of the future tenants of the Innovation Centre who can often be found sampling a specialty brew at BNA after a long week of work. Kyle notes of this group, “it used to be that the moment you turned 22, you had to leave Kelowna. It’s cool seeing young people that are able to stay here now and work for companies that are inspiring and fun and innovative. That type of energy inspires us.” BNA certainly has a loyal fan base of downtown dwellers but Carolyn believes the brewery has yet to reach its full potential, adding, “the more things there are downtown that attract people, the more activity, jobs, and excitement that’s created here, it will bring people in from other neighborhoods.” Admitting they may be biased, the entrepreneurial duo says they can’t imagine living outside of the Okanagan. Carolyn delves further and states, “it’s a privilege to be able to have a career that lets you live in Kelowna.” Nodding his head in agreement, Kyle adds “and it’s a privilege to be able to raise a family here. We have always had that mindset. We’re lucky to be business owners and have a business we love, but also to be able to raise our kids here. 10 years ago, that wasn’t always normal.” Cheers to the new normal, with a BNA craft beer of course…
With neighbouring businesses like these, the support for the Innovation Centre is tangible. The hundreds of shops, restaurants, services, and entertainment facilities scattered throughout the downtown core make this district unique, along with the engaged public sector who continues to sustain it. As the building prepares to welcome the public into its new space, this sense of community will undoubtedly grow with plenty of opportunities for collaboration, entrepreneurship, and innovation.