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Tsawout council member Allan Claxton at a site slated for big box stores off the Patricia Bay Highway in Central Saanich, B.C., on Jan. 16, 2014. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Tsawout council member Allan Claxton at a site slated for big box stores off the Patricia Bay Highway in Central Saanich, B.C., on Jan. 16, 2014.

(Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Big box development on First Nations land along highway to Victoria expected to create 2,500 jobs Add to ...

Construction of a major retail development on First Nations land beside the main highway into Victoria is scheduled to start this summer, and could lead to some significant changes along the route from the ferry terminal into the city.

Plans for a new overpass on the Patricia Bay Highway to accommodate the expected increase in traffic are awaiting final provincial approval.

The Tsawout First Nation has partnered with Vancouver-based Property Development Group (PDG) on the proposed 600,000-square-foot Jesken Town Centre, east of the Pat Bay Highway, between Island View Road and Mount Newton Cross Road. The $150-million-plus development, which is expected to attract about four major retailers and eight mid-sized stores, will be built on reserve land, with property being owned on a 99-year lease by Tsawout band members. The first phase is expected to open by late 2015.

The partners are also picking up the approximately $20-million cost of building the overpass because of the need for job creation in the First Nations community that has an unemployment rate of more than 60 per cent, said Tsawout band councillor and former chief Allan Claxton.

“When I was a young chief I was asked by the elders to look into something like this to create revenue for our people. They said that the fishing is disappearing and the hunting is gone and we need something else,” said Mr. Claxton, who estimates that up to 2,500 jobs will be created.

Tsawout reserve is adjacent to the rural municipality of Central Saanich and Mayor Alastair Bryson said council is aware of Tsawout’s desire for a stable economic base.

“As their plans for this significant development unfold, Central Saanich will work with the Tsawout First Nation to address any concerns and to identify potential synergies,” he said.

Some Central Saanich business owners fear the development could draw customers away from established centres, but most are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

“It’s hard to know what customers are going to do,” said Vern Michell, part-owner of Michell Brothers farm and a popular farmers’ market.

“But we are all neighbours. We all live together. I hope everything works out.”

First dibs on jobs will go to Tsawout members, but the band, with about 800 members, will not be able to fill all the positions, so there will be a positive spinoff for the surrounding community, Mr. Claxton said.

“This will mean that there will be no excuse whatsoever to not find employment. Some people get a little too comfortable on welfare and that doesn’t offer a very good lifestyle,” he said.

The vote at a Tsawout community meeting was overwhelmingly in favour of the project, Mr. Claxton said.

An initial hurdle was access off the busy Pat Bay Highway – a road that carries traffic from Swartz Bay ferry terminal and Victoria International Airport – but a Transportation Ministry spokesman said in an e-mail the ministry is working with Tsawout to develop an agreement for the proposed overpass.

Keith McRae, PDG acquisitions and development director, said a combination of destination and community stores should attract local and regional shoppers, but would not say which retailers are on board.

“There will be some tenant announcements shortly and people will be excited for sure,” said Mr. McRae, who believes Saanich Peninsula is one of the most under-served retail areas in western Canada.

Costco has long been rumoured to be looking for a Saanich Peninsula location, but a spokesman said there are no current plans to build a store in that area.

PDG is also partnering with Tsawwassen First Nation on a major retail development and Mr. McRae said the company has no concerns about building on reserve land.

“It is very good business for our group and First Nations,” he said.

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