Construction on an ambitious project that aims to strengthen First Nations economic development, just off the Coquihalla Highway near Merritt, is expected to start this summer.

In a news release published on Jan. 9, it was announced by development company Troika that the Gateway 286 development includes 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.

Gateway 286 is located on 29 acres of land near the former Merritt visitor information centre, which was closed in 2018, and later in 2020, the B.C. government transferred the land to the local five bands.

The design of the multi-faceted development will aim to recognize local First Nations culture and history. 

Also according to the release, there will be commitments to employ, train and provide economic opportunities for local First Nations members.

The project sets “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,” the release reads.

Susan Roline, chair and spokesperson for Spayum Holdings LP, said in the release that the agreement is a landmark moment for the five First Nations communities in the Nicola Valley.

“This is an important milestone for Nicola Valley First Nations who have invested so much time and so much effort over the past decade to bring this important initiative to life.”

Chief Stuart Jackson, chief at Lower Nicola Indian Band, said that the five local bands have waited 30 years to realize the return of their traditional lands and the development of those lands.

“Gateway 286 will provide employment and revenue to our five communities and in addition this development will provide a vital transportation hub for all the east and west bound traffic on Highway 5A,” he said.