Win a Studio 9 scholarship
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 09 - Think Local

Image: Studio 9

This year, Kelowna’s Studio 9 Independent School of the Arts will give one lucky young person the chance to pursue their artistic dreams.

The school is giving out an enrollment scholarship for upcoming school year, and all any young person has to do to win is tell the school why they want to attend.

Studio 9 is an arts-focused school that allows young people’s artistic talents to flourish in a way they almost never could at a traditional school.

It focuses heavily on arts education, placing students in nine different arts courses each year, while incorporating the arts into a curriculum covering the traditional suite of high school subjects.

“You’re not here just to dance; you’re not here just to act. Taking all of the arts together gives young artists a rock-solid foundation, while allowing them to build on and better understand their strongest arts,” says Studio 9 CEO and teacher Mike Guzzi.

But that doesn’t mean students aren’t getting a robust academic education. Many assume a school like Studio 9 would be easier than a traditional school, but Guzzi says “it’s actually way harder.”

“Yes, there’s art in your life every day, and that’s what’s exciting, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the work,” he says.

Zoe Marie Welch is one of the Studio 9 students that did do that work.

After putting her nose to the grindstone she graduated from the school this year, a full year early, and is now pursuing a career in acting and music in Vancouver.

She says her years at Studio 9 fundamentally shaped who she is today.

“I definitely felt way more prepared going out into the world because of the school,” she says.

Welch says that, not only are the teachers at the school amazing (“they’re highly credited, they know what they’re doing, and they’re fun, too”), but they went above and beyond for her and her classmates, encouraging them to think critically and express themselves in a way that profoundly affected her.

“If you go to the school, you’re really allowed to express your individuality. It’s really nice to go somewhere and be encouraged to express yourself, and not have to try and conform to what everyone else is doing,” she says.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else, and if I did I wouldn’t feel the same about school. I’m so happy that I went there.”

Guzzi says that, through the essay contest, he hopes to give a young person who might not otherwise be able to attend the school the same kinds of experiences Welch had.

He encourages any kid with a passion for the arts to submit a short writeup outlining why they want to attend Studio 9. Even if you’re not the most talented singer or dancer, he says, you are still welcome.

“That fit is a student that really wants to work hard, but loves the arts. And you don’t have to be the best at them, you just have to love them and appreciate them,” Guzzi says.

For more information on Studio 9 visit the school’s website. For a chance to win the entrance scholarship, click here. The contest closes Aug. 24.

Creativity Day dazzles
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 07 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

One of the most dazzling showcases of the Okanagan’s next generation of creatives is only days away.

The Wilden Creativity Day brings together the valley’s most unique and exciting creators for an hours long celebration of art, culture, music and food— all completely free, and open to anyone.

“The Wilden Creativity Day is one way we try and give back to a community that we love so much,” explains Karin Eger-Blenk, the director of marketing at Wilden. “Kelowna has a thriving art scene and we are thrilled to give the young generation of artists wider exposure.”

The Blenk family, the developers of Wilden, Kelowna’s largest master-planned community, have been hosting their Creativity Day since 2015.

It began when the family teamed up with the UBCO Faculty of Critical and Creative Studies to create a $2,500 award for a graduating student that has shown exceptional creativity.

Three years later, the event is a sparkling showcase of local art and culture, honouring the Okanagan’s most exciting emerging creators of music, visual art, culinary experiences and more.

Image: Contributed
Rho Shaw

This year, the recipient of the Wilden Creativity Award is Penticton’s Rho Shaw, whose photography and silkscreen work explores identity and language.

Shaw will exhibit her work at Creativity Day, alongside fellow nominees Pamela Turner and Jackie Deck.

But their award-winning artwork is only the beginning.

Guests will also get the chance to marvel at the 12 best entries in the #WildKelowna photo contest, with the winner being crowned before the afternoon is over.

The Wilden team will also unveil the innovative new homes it has developed for its new “Echo Ridge” neighbourhood, and give out some first-hand information about projects currently on the drawing board.

A trio of local musicians will lay a sonic soundscape throughout the event. Among them will be Michael Huber, the 2017 Okanagan Singer/Songwriter Competition winner; virtuoso guitarist and composer Adam Meacham, and the spellbinding singer and storyteller Nicole Holkestad.

Completing the sensory experience will be a selection of scrumptious, hand-crafted food from small local businesses.

Chocolate, gelato, kombucha, wine and beer will all be available to sample.

The Wilden Creativity Day is a complimentary event, and Eger-Blenk encourages anyone and everyone to come out and enjoy the experience.

“This is a celebration of new ideas in art, music, food and home design. Kelowna’s cultural life has a lot to offer, and we encourage everyone to come and experience it with us,” she says.

The Wilden Creativity Day will be held in the newly opened Wilden Presentation Centre and Showhome, at 1454 Rocky Point Drive, from 2-5 p.m.

For more information visit Wilden online.

Local company’s rental revolution
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 05 - Think Local

Image: Happipad


Kelowna has an active and growing rental market consisting of students, vacationers, and young professionals.  Near-zero vacancies and low inventory have contributed to a developing rental crisis.

Mayor Colin Basran points out that, while the city is doing a lot to increase rental opportunities, governments and municipalities can’t address the issues on their own.

Now, a Kelowna company is trying to revolutionize renting with an innovation called Happipad.

Happipad is an online platform that allows long-term property renting to be completed in real time, with the same conveniences and accountability of familiar services such as Airbnb and UBER. Founded by a pair of engineers from UBC Okanagan, the service went live in Canada in July.

The Happipad concept was developed to increase the efficiency of renting.

Cailan Libby, Happipad’s CEO and co-founder, believes his service can create a new level of trust within the rental marketplace, by making it a social experience.

“The problem with renting today is that there is no track record. A landlord or tenant is able to take advantage of someone, run a rental scam or damage a property, and that bad behavior doesn’t follow them to their next landlord or tenant,” he explains.

But just as shady Amazon sellers or sub-par UBER drivers are punished for their bad ratings, slum landlords and deadbeat tenants will feel the effect of their bad Happipad scores.

Happipad rewards people for having good behaviour. Today if a tenant or landlord causes damages, everyone pays for it. This creates stereotypes, and changing rent prices to compensate for damages.

Libby hopes that Happipad will help ease the rental market by allowing landlords to find trusted tenants for properties that are typically not available for rent.

Image: Facebook

“Lots of people don’t rent their properties because they don’t trust potential tenants, we want to change that,” Libby says.

Happipad gives renters the ability to browse potential new homes on its rental map, and submit applications through the online platform. Meanwhile, landlords can both screen potential tenants and get the rental agreement signed and sealed directly through the service.

Once the tenancy is over, both parties can review one another, a feature that adds a whole new level of accountability to a process that is often plagued by guesswork.

The website’s live rental inventory means that, as soon as a contract is signed for a property, it gets removed from the service. Tenants can also see the number, and average amount, of offers on every single property.

“I am supportive of anything that will help our residents find homes and make it easier for responsible tenants to connect with well-intentioned landlords. Happipad is helping do exactly that,” Basran says.

“Happipad has the potential to make renting way easier, and that can only be a good thing for everyone involved. Renting is an important part of our society, if people have quality, happy tenancies, everyone wins,” Libby says.

For more information, check out Happipad online.

Image: Facebook

$299,900 to live at The Rise
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 03 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

Things are really heating up at The Rise.

Last month, developer A.J. Hazzi brought the first phase of his Vista Villas development to the prime Vernon real estate, jolting to life an area that had sat more-or-less stagnant for years.

More than $4 million worth of villas sold during the first week, and all of the larger Phase 1 units are now sold out.

“Everybody’s been wondering what’s going on up there, so it’s great to see so much action,” Hazzi says. “It definitely shows there’s real demand in Vernon for this product.”

Now, thanks to last month’s success, Hazzi is preparing to bring even more Vista Villas homes to the market—and this time he’s offering them at a jaw-droppingly low price.

On Aug. 12, Hazzi says a batch of two-bedroom units will go on sale at Vista Villas for $299,900.

“It’s the lowest price point that’s ever been introduced at The Rise, but we’re not compromising on anything. The finishings are beautiful, the upper floors have a great view—these are just exceptional units,” he says.

Vista Villas is unique to the Rise because Hazzi has been allowed to do away with the Tuscan style that was forced upon original development.

Instead, Vista Villas homes feature the kind of sleek, modern design today’s home buyers seek.

“One of the exciting things about Vista Villas is it doesn’t fall under the design guidelines of the original development, so we get away with a modern, contemporary design, which is way more on trend for this decade,” Hazzi says.

Hazzi also points out that his homes make a great investment, because they’re zoned in a way that makes it completely legal to rent them out through vacation rental sites like Airbnb.

But getting your hands on one of the units might not be so easy.

Hazzi is holding a sales event at Vista Villas on Aug. 12, from noon to 5 p.m.

The entire sales team will be on site, answering questions, giving tours, and selling the homes to lucky new buyers.

“The rest of the units will sell out that weekend, so people should make sure they get there if they’re interested in these homes,” Hazzi says.

For a sneak peek at what the Vista Villas homes will look like, more information on the development, or for sales inquiries, check out the development online.

Okanagan life at new heights
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 01 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

Two reputable forces in the local and regional development scene have come together to make their mark on the Kelowna skyline, taking a property that has for years been an eyesore and transforming it into “something beautiful and iconic.”

With their groundbreaking ONE Water Street development, the North American Development Group and Kerkhoff Construction will give residents the opportunity to embrace the burgeoning “Okanagan Urban” lifestyle, in a trendsetting downtown home.

NADG is known for bringing the McKinley Beach development to Kelowna. Meanwhile, Kerkhoff Construction developed and built the nearly sold out highrise at 1151 Sunset Drive.

Both hope to surpass their previous success with a truly iconic project.

“Kelowna has experienced exceptional growth in the recent years. As the city expands, we believe we should be looking to the sky, growing upwards rather than outwards. ONE Water Street will cut a striking skyline, while providing quality homes in the heart of Kelowna’s downtown,” says Henry Bereznicki, a managing partner at NADG.

ONE Water Street’s two towers will be the tallest between Metro Vancouver and Calgary, cutting a dizzying 36 and 29 storey silhouette against the Kelowna skyline.

Inspired by some of the most sought-after multi-story residences in major cities, the towers are designed by internationally renowned Kasian Architecture, which made them strikingly slim to preserve their neighbours’ views.

Recognized by New York’s Interior Design Magazine as one of the top 100 firms in the world, the firm is famous for creating iconic buildings like the National Music Centre in Calgary, and the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey.

“Our aim is to create place for residents and citizens alike that will be distinctive and beautiful, something that stands out among downtown Kelowna’s skyline and enhances it,” President Don Kasian says. “We believe this design will create an iconic element to the skyline while preserving the views that are loved by locals and visitors.”

Once fully complete, ONE Water Street will boast more than 400 homes, from studio apartments to penthouses and street-level units.

The iconic towers will sit atop a four-storey “podium,” featuring a 559-car parkade wrapped by commercial, retail, and restaurant space, rendering it invisible from the street.

Level four will feature “The Bench,” an exclusive amenity space inspired by outdoor living at vineyard resorts. The community area will include an outdoor patio—with tables and couches for dining and entertainment—as well as swimming pools, hot tubs, a fitness facility, dog park, fire pits and other amenities.

Sitting in the centre of Kelowna, nearly a stone’s throw from the lake and the downtown core, ONE Water Street is expected to be a trendsetter for future developments in the region, as young people, families and retirees flock to buy a home in it.

The project still needs final approval from Kelowna City Council, but if approved, pre-sales for the 200-unit, 36-storey first phase high-rise are expected to begin in September.

For the latest information on ONE Water street, visit the project online, where you can sign up to be the first to learn the latest developments.

The gym that changed it all
Special to Okanagan Edge - Jul 30 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

An innovative new Kelowna gym has hit city’s fitness world like a roundhouse kick to a heavy bag, and is already changing the way people think about working out.

9Round Fitness drops the traditional gym setup—beefcakes milling between rows of free weights, lines of sweat-soaked machines—in favour of fast-paced, kickboxing-inspired circuit training.

The gym gives each member their own personal trainer and nutrition plan, does away with class times, and takes advantage of some of the most advanced heart rate monitor technology on the market.

Arlen Mergel, the gym’s owner, says it’s not just an entirely different experience than what most people expect from a gym, it’s the kind of experience they actually want from a gym.

“There was a lot of questions being asked in the fitness industry, and we have answered them,” he says.

It works like this:

The whole thing is essentially one giant circuit. An old-school boxing bell buzzes in three-minute intervals, and personal trainers constantly walk the floor.

Members show up whenever they please, and after some instruction from the trainer on the what the day’s workout is, jump directly into the action.

They work on their own or with a friend, helped along by their trainer. Over the course of about 30 minutes they take on nine different stations, ranging from floor work and resistance training, to pounding it out on the heavy bag.

It’s a fairly simple setup, Mergel says, but it’s also a devastatingly effective one; on average, members burn about 600 calories per workout.

9Round also offers all of its members a personalized nutrition plan. The combination of personal attention and thinking beyond the gym, Mergel says, is part of what makes the workouts so successful.

But Mergel is especially proud of the atmosphere he’s cultivated: it’s a family oriented place, he says, and everything about it is designed to combat the judgement and anxiety so many worry about in traditional gyms.

“We’re not that type of training facility, we are the facility for literally everybody,” he says.

The gym is low lit, and no one can take your picture without your permission. There’s no selfies allowed, and every circuit station faces out, “so you’re never going to have someone staring at you or watching you work out.”

“I get so many people that want to improve themselves, that want to lose weight or feel more confident, but they don’t feel comfortable walking into your traditional gym. That’s not the case at 9Round,” Mergel said.

For more information, or to schedule a free workout, check out 9Round Kelowna online.

Empowering the community
Special to Okanagan Edge - Jul 27 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

Prospera Credit Union has received a $10,000 prize for its dedication to its community.

The credit union was recently awarded an “Empowering Your Community” award for 2017. The awards are handed out each year by the financial services company Concentra, to credit unions that have demonstrated a meaningful commitment to their communities.

The award is a high honour for any credit union.

Prospera was recognized primarily for its involvement with the social enterprise startup Volinspire, something Angela Burnell is “absolutely thrilled” about.

Burnell is Prospera’s regional director for family banking and wealth, and she says she’s incredibly proud of the work Prospera has done with Volinspire to encourage people to give back to their communities.

Along with being one of the founding community partners with the volunteer-oriented social media platform, Prospera’s staff have logged more than 4,200 volunteer hours through Volinspire.

More than 75 per cent of Prospera’s staff are part of the service, and those staff have contributed to more than 200 different community organizations.

“It’s a pretty big number for so much of our staff to be so embedded in that culture,” she says. “We really have some amazing people in our organization.”

“We are one of those companies where contributing to our community is foundational. We talk about it when we hire, we talk about it meetings, we even talk about it on our lunch breaks,” Burnell explains.

That attitude begins with Prospera’s hiring process, when the company tries its hardest to bring people onto the team that are passionate about giving back to the community.

“You can tell when people are leaning in, and their eyes are lighting up, when we talk about community involvement that they are someone we want on the team,” she says.

Burnell says “community involvement” aren’t just words Prospera uses: it is an action item, and that’s why it means so much to be recognized.

“It’s great when you get awards, but what it comes down to us actually doing it, versus saying you’re doing it,” she says.

Burnell is especially proud of Prospera’s involvement in events like Bats for a Cause—a slow-pitch tournament that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the BC Childrens’ Hospital—and how the company gives back through the Prospera Place.

Prospera Place isn’t just about having their name on the building, she says. The company also has a VIP suite in the centre that it regularly hands over to community groups during Rockets games and concerts.

It’s just one more way, Burnell says, they try to give back.

“At the end of the day, it’s important that we’re supporting our communities. It’s part of the credit union culture. It’s who we are,” she says.

‘Most affordable’ Okanagan homes
Special to Okanagan Edge - Jul 17 - Think Local

Last year, when Jason Pender and his development partners bought a five-acre stretch of land in the hills overlooking Okanagan Lake, they did so with the vision to build the most affordable new, single-family homes in the region.

Today, after subdividing the land into 29 new lots, they believe they have succeeded— and people are already starting to take notice.

The new subdivision, The Vines, is a 29-lot community on Inverness Road, resting between the lake and the mountains. About half the lots look out onto the lake, while the others will feature mountain views.

With the land now fully developed, Pender says the homes are quickly getting snapped up, due mostly, the developers believe, to how affordably they’ve been priced.

The Vines entry-level homes are two-storey houses with three bedroom, three bathrooms and a double-car garage, starting at just $499,000.

The entire development, Pender says, is structured to be as cost effective as possible, “without giving anything away on the quality side of construction and finishings.”

Pender says the homes are built with quality in mind, and feature an open concept layout, modern interior finishing and a five-piece appliance package.

“We’re not stretching to grab as much profitability as we possibly can, and just leverage out at the maximum price. We’re just looking to get quality homes built and sold at an affordable price,” he says.

With the average single-family home in the Central Okanagan now topping out at more than $700,000, Pender believes homes at The Vines will be the perfect opportunity to break into Kelowna’s real estate market (before it’s too late), or step up from strata ownership.

And options at The Vines extend beyond the three-bedroom starter home.

Pender says homes can be upgraded to be as big as a six-bedroom, four bathroom, 3,150 square foot house with a fully finished basement, that still sells from $670,000.

Lots with future homes to be built at The Vines have only been on the market for about a week, but many have already been snapped up.

Realtor Taylor Musseau says she’s seeing incredible interest in the homes, and encourages anyone interested to get in touch as soon as they can.

Pender seconds Musseau’s call, saying if demand stays at this level he may be forced to up the prices of the units. Getting in early, he says, will be the best way to cash in on the value.

For more information, visit The Vines online, or contact Musseau directly at 250-878-2541.

1 night, 5 exclusive wines
Special to Okanagan Edge - Jul 12 - Think Local

The five vintages La Bussola will uncork at its First Growth Dinner

Later this summer, a Kelowna restaurant will host a dinner unlike any the city has ever seen.

Only eight people will attend, but those eight attendees will be given an opportunity many wine enthusiasts can only dream of.

La Bussola’s First Growth Dinner will provide a rare opportunity for those people to taste all five of the famed First Growth wines in one night.

As Stephen Hart, the sommelier hosting the dinner, explains, the five first growth wines topped a classification list created at the request of Emperor Napoleon in 1855.

They gained widespread notoriety after appearing in a display of Bordeaux wines at the Universal Exhibition in Paris that year, and have since become some of the most sought-after Bordeaux in the world.

More than a century of demand has pushed their prices to dizzying heights, and the opportunity to taste one of the first growth wines is a rare treat.

Sampling all five in the same night, Hart says, is for many a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Nobody says ‘hey, let’s open up five first-growth wines.’ That’s like saying ‘today we’re going to drive a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bentley and Maserati all in one day,’” he says. “This is going to be a very unique event.”

Only eight seats at La Bussola’s exclusive event are available, with tickets selling for $1,500 each.

The night will see the entire restaurant given over the the private dinner, featuring exquisite food prepared by chef and owner Lauretta Coccaro, paired with the first growth wines.

Hart, already a certified sommelier and Bordeaux Master Level candidate, has been training for close to six months to prepare for the evening.

He will take guests through tasting each of the celebrated wines in “an enriching, educational and immersive wine-tasting experience,” explaining both the history and significance of each vintage.

Stephen Hart will host La Bussola’s First Growth Dinner

The five vintages La Bussola will serve at the Aug. 28 dinner will be:

1998 Château Lafite-Rothschild;

1997 Château Latour;

1998 Château Margaux;

1996 Château Haut-Brion Pessac Leognan;

1997 Château Mouton Rothschild.

While the dinner promises to be a thrill for the eight lucky attendees, Luigi Coccaro says it’s also making an important statement about fine dining in Kelowna.

Coccaro is the general manager and wine director at La Bussola, and has his WEST diploma in wine and spirits, a designation he shares with less than 10,000 people in the world.

“Normally it would be places like Toronto, New York, Toyko and Beijing hosting this kind of dinner, so our first growth dinner says something about the culinary scene in Kelowna, that we are moving up and becoming more serious,” Coccaro says.

Coccaro points out that his father, Francesco Coccaro, founded La Bussola in 1974. It was the first Italian restaurant in Kelowna, and the fine dining establishment quickly became the largest wine destination in the city.

Francesco has been buying fine wines since the beginning, and La Bussola now boasts a collection of more than 600 wines often garnering awards from publications like Wine Spectator.

The collection is the largest between Vancouver and Calgary, and the retired Francesco still actively helps guide the restaurant’s wine program.

Coccaro says it was his father’s foresight that today gives him the opportunity to uncork all five first growth wines in a single dinner.

For more information on La Bussola, or the first growth dinner, visit

New development at The Rise
Special to Okanagan Edge - Jul 09 - Think Local

Things are finally happening at The Rise.

The prime real estate, perched on a sun-drenched slope on the edge of Vernon, has sat more-or-less stagnant for years. But a local developer is about to bring life back to the area, with the release of 14 stunning new villas.

Fresh off his success creating the City of Kelowna’s first “green street,” at Parkside at Clifton Road, developer A.J. Hazzi is on the verge of bringing The Rise lifestyle to 14 new homeowners.

His Vista Villas development features two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot units starting at $299,000, and four-bedroom, semi-detached walk-out villas starting at $499,000.

That kind of pricing, Hazzi says, combined with a unique zoning that makes it entirely legal to rent the homes out through vacation rental sites like Airbnb, make the homes perfect as both an investment property, or for downsizers who want to retain their lifestyle without having to buy a massive home.

“We’re really the only game at town,” Hazzi says. “We’re bringing these homes in at a price mix that’s never been done before. Having two-bedroom units from $299,000, we’ve never seen anything like that up here.”

Hazzi says Vista Villas will be unique to the Rise because he’s been allowed to buck the Tuscan style mandated for the original development, in favour of contemporary modern homes.

“One of the exciting things about Vista Villas is it doesn’t fall under the design guidelines of the original development, so we get away with a modern, contemporary design, which is way more on trend for this decade,” Hazzi says.

Interest in Vista Villas is beginning to mount, but on July 15 units go on sale at their early bird prices.

Anyone who buys one of the homes this weekend will be gifted a membership to the prestigious Fred Couples signature golf course at The Rise, or $3,000 worth of upgrades to their future home.

Homes at Vista Villas don’t come with any strata fees, and new owners will be able to move in by December.

For a sneak peek at what the Vista Villas homes look like, more information on the development, or for sales inquiries, visit

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