The sad story of BMO Bank of Montreal's move out of Five Corners downtown Chilliwack has a happy ending after all as the financial institution donated the building to the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).
The Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) will also contribute up to $650,000 to renovate the building that by next fall will host UFV classes.
At a press conference held inside the old bank Friday, a BMO official and CEPCO representative handed over a symbolic key to UFV president Mark Evered.
"We see a real value in having a space right at the core of Chilliwack's downtown," Evered said. "This generous donation by BMO and the additional support provided by CEPCO will help us to play a lead role in the revitalization of the area and address the educational needs of the business community."
Evered said no concrete plans were in place in terms of what courses would be offered at what is to be called the UFV Plaza, but he suggested the programs would likely be aimed at supporting the business community.
"We are exploring a number of ideas," Evered said, adding later that the location might be a good place for ElderCollege.
Valued at $850,000, the donation is the largest BMO has ever made in British Columbia, according to Henry Donkers, vice-president of personal banking for BMO.
Add CEPCO's $650,000 donation and the $1.5 million value is the largest
gift UFV has ever received.
"Rather than just turning their back on [the building] they've turned it into a positive thing," CEPCO board chair Bruce Van Den Brink said Friday. "It could be a good foundation for the future of the downtown."
Mayor Sharon Gaetz lauded the donation and the positive news for downtown.
"What an exciting day for the City of Chilliwack," she said. "I'm glad Santa Claus came to town a little early. . . . How absolutely incredible that University of the Fraser Valley will now be in the heart of downtown."
Gaetz made a nod to the city's long-term vision for the Yale/Young block across the street.
"I imagined when your students look out this window maybe six of seven years from now and they will see an incredible development in front of them and maybe some of them will live in the apartments up above," she said.
In November, city hall issued a "notice of intent" to expropriate the Irwin Block at Five Corners as part of the plan to assemble a 1.5-acre piece of the block for possible residential/commercial development.
When BMO first announced its move in 2011 that it was moving from Five Corners to the Eagle Landing development on the Squiala First Nation Reserve, Gaetz said she was "not happy."
"It is well-used by the merchants in downtown and some older folks like to walk there," she said at the time.
With the District Public House now open, development plans for the Irwin Block in place and now the UFV Plaza, there is a feeling of optimism for the downtown.
Meanwhile, BMO held a grand opening of the new Eagle Landing branch on Saturday.