A major milestone has been achieved towards redevelopment of Gateway 286 - the former Merritt tourist information centre - with the completion of an agreement between Spayum Holdings LP, the First Nations development company that owns the land, and local partner, Troika PR Gateway, Inc.
The multi-faceted development agreement includes a portion of the property where the first phase of development, a new 30,000 square foot highway commercial centre including restaurants, convenience retail, gas bar, dog park and western Canada’s largest electric vehicle charging station, will be created.
Design objectives, which recognize Nicola Valley First Nations culture and history, as well as an ‘opportunities agreement’, containing commitments to provide employment, training and economic opportunities for members of area First Nations, are also part of the deal.
The partnership will develop and manage the project on behalf of all three parties, Spayum Holdings LP, Troika Management Corp. and PR Petroleum.
The project is the culmination of three decades of work and reconciliation between the five Nicola Valley First Nations, provincial, federal, and municipal governments, as well as two local companies – Troika and PR Petroleum - and is an example of how partnerships between First Nations, industry and government can bring meaningful economic reconciliation through recurring financial benefits to local First Nations’ communities.
Susan Roline, Chair and spokesperson for Spayum Holdings LP, says that reaching this agreement is a landmark moment for local First Nations communities. “This is an important milestone for Nicola Valley First Nations who have invested so much time and effort over the past decade to bring this important initiative to life”, adding “There is more work to do but with the formal commitments contained here, our partner communities are able to see real economic opportunities coming closer to fruition”.
Chief Stuart Jackson, Lower Nicola Indian Band, says that the 5 Bands working together as Spayum Holdings LP, Upper Nicola, Coldwater, Lower Nicola, Shakan and Nooaitch, have waited 30 years for this moment, adding “Gateway 286 will provide employment and revenue to our 5 communities” as well as “a vital transportation hub for all the east and westbound traffic on Highway 5A.”
Renee Merrifield, Founder of Troika Management Corp, adds “All of the partners who have been integral in facilitating this agreement, including the government agencies that supported the initiative, are feeling optimistic about what we are creating, which we think can be a model for real partnership and reconciliation that others can follow.”
Since ground-breaking was officially announced in March, 2022, Spayum Holdings LP has worked with the City of Merritt and its partners on site works and the design and extension of community services. A Development Permit Application will be submitted in early Spring 2024 and construction is expected to begin next summer.
Gateway 286 - Background
The land in question is in the Nlaka’pamux and Syilx traditional territories, of which a portion at Exit 286 was developed in 1985 by the Province for a Forest Interpretive Centre. This was eventually converted to a Tourist Information Centre that was operated by the City of Merritt until 2005 when the BC Tourism Association took it over, continuing the operation until it was closed in 2018 by Destination BC, as it was no longer serving the purpose required under their mandate.
In 2021, the Province transferred 28.66 acres of land to Spayum Holdings LP, the company set up to manage the Nicola Valley’s Five First Nations Bands’ off-reserve land holdings. This parcel is part of a Protocol Agreement which is focussed on strengthening First Nations’ economic development.
A portion of this land (7 acres) is being leased by the partnership for the new highway commercial project that will be built and the land not covered by this agreement will present additional development opportunities for the Nicola Valley First Nations in future.
In addition to the Province’s role in returning the land to First Nations, the federal government is contributing a portion of the funding towards project development and the City of Merritt is providing permitting support and a mechanism of financing for site servicing.
Full Statement from Chief Stuart Jackson: Lower Nicola Indian Band, Spayum Holdings LP
“The 5 Bands of Spayum Holdings LP, Upper Nicola, Lower Nicola, Coldwater, Shakan, and Nooaitch, have waited 30 years to realize the return of their traditional lands and the development of those lands into an exceptional commercial development. Gateway 286 will provide employment and revenue to our 5 communities and in addition this development will provide a vital transportation hub for all the east and west bound traffic on Highway 5A. We wish to thank both the Provincial and Federal Governments for supporting us in this endeavor. In addition, we wish to thank the Mayor, Council and staff of the City of Merritt who have worked tirelessly to enable the project to proceed. We look forward to working with Troika Management Corp. in building this important future for the region of Thompson Okanagan.”