Victoria Facelift – The largest development on the island

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

In Colwood a near-14-acre development will include housing, retail and four floors of office spacet on the Island indicative of urban makeovers in B.C.’s historic capital


Armed with a multimillion-dollar initial construction budget, Victoria-based League Financial Partners launched a $1 billion mixed-use project on Victoria’s West Shore last month. Capital City Centre is not only the biggest urban development on Vancouver Island, it is also indicative of real estate makeovers being seen across the Capital Region.

The centre is replacing two 30-year-old malls and creating a new downtown in Colwood with a near-14-acre development that will include housing, retail and four floors of office space, at least a third of which will be sold as strata.

League CEO and co-founder Adam Gant envisions the office space being snapped up by high-tech and dot-com companies – Victoria is known as startup leader – and the medical community. League’s new headquarters will also be located at the centre.

London Drugs is the current anchor but Gant said negotiations are underway with two national food stores, one of which will open a 35,000-square-foot outlet.

“We are getting urban-level lease rates,” Gant said, with triple-net rates north of $30 per square foot.

The first phase of the project will be developed in three sub-phases over the next five years. The initial work includes a four-storey residential building over a new 35,000-square-foot London Drugs, a five-storey office building and three additional retail buildings.

The second step of the first phase will feature a 26-storey residential tower, making it the tallest building on Vancouver Island. Phase 1C will include a second 26-storey residential tower, a four-storey residential mid-rise building, the grocery anchor and additional retailers.

“By the time we complete this will become the highest-density project in the region,” Gant said.

Colwood is a good choice for a new retail venture. It is part of five communities in the West Shore that accounted for 75 per cent of all population growth in metropolitan Victoria in the past five years, according to the latest Census Canada report. Langford led the way, with its population increasing to 29,228, a 30 per cent jump since 2006. Colwood’s population reached 14,687 in 2011, climbing by 9.6 per cent, more than twice the pace of the City of Victoria, which clocked in with a 4.4 per cent rise in population.

One has to watch the traffic to see the movement. The number of vehicles travelling to and from the West Shore along the Trans-Canada Highway on weekdays increased by 11 per cent between 2005 and 2010. Averaged over a year, the total numbers of vehicles reached 84,465 in 2010, according to the data from Capital Regional District, and has increased since.

Capital City Centre, however, is placed close to the approved alignment of a future rapid-transit system that will connect the West Shore to downtown Victoria.

The centre, starting with the estimated 500 construction workers who will be on site for years, will increase West Shore traffic, but Colwood welcomes the project and considers it an inevitable part of fast growth, according to Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton.

Gant adds that Capital City Centre will benefit from its close location to Royal Rhodes University, which has a healthy international representation among its students. Royal Rhodes has taken office space at the centre, and League was recently involved in a university-led trip to China, where Gant said 19 Chinese buyers signed to register for Capital City Centre condos.


Victoria has seen some major urban renewal projects, most recently the Hudson mixed-use project at the old Hudson Bay Company store, Uptown Phase 1 and the Atrium, all of which are fully leased. Uptown Phase II is scheduled to be completed in 2012, delivering an additional 220,000 square feet of space, which could create some movement throughout the region. A transformation of older buildings has also seen success in the office sector. The ongoing makeovers of both 1112 Fort Street and 1019 Wharf Street are perhaps the best examples.

“These capital investments have yielded substantial dividends by attracting quality tenants such as Microsoft and Elections BC,” Colliers International remarked in a recent report.

Microsoft has been remodelling former government office space on the top floor at 1019 Wharf Street and 1112 Fort Street into a facility called Microsoft Studios Victoria. The tech giant has an option for more space for expansion. Staff should be moving in this year, according to Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division, who lives in Oak Bay. Victoria is well positioned as a game-design hub, he said.

“Victoria offers proximity to world-class universities, a thriving, advanced technology industry with a highly educated and skilled workforce, located in one of Canada’s best communities to live in,” Mattrick said.

Shot down Not all urban makeovers have such a smooth transition from the past to the future.

A proposal to build a $25 million, five-storey commercial/condominium project at the foot of the Johnson Street Bridge stalled after Victoria councillors clashed over the scope of the project and how much public land should be involved.

Reliance Properties Ltd. of Vancouver is proposing the waterfront development, which includes redevelopment of the long-derelict city-owned Wharf Street Northern Junk buildings, built in the 1860s.

Most of the proposed new construction wraps around the heritage buildings on a crescent-shaped parcel of land that is currently a city-owned boulevard and parking lot.

Reliance proposed building 56 residential units over the top of street-level commercial on the city-owned parcel. The development plan includes a waterfront public plaza with a stairway suitable for seating to provide access to the existing marina. A new public connection to the Victoria Harbour Pathway is also planned.

The two heritage buildings were to be rehabilitated and connected with a glass atrium.

Council also nixed a plan by developer Mike Kelly, who wanted to renovate a Traveller’s Inn at 3025 Douglas Street into affordable housing units. Kelly planned to invest about $1.5 million for renovations to the 50-unit motel and turn it into 45 self-contained units that would range from 226 square feet to 387 square feet, but the city found it unacceptable.

Small rentals

Meanwhile, the company planning to reinvent the 101-year-old Victoria Plaza Hotel is also considering a concept that could shrink rental accommodation in Victoria to micro-size.

GMC Projects wants to turn the two-storey building on Pandora Avenue into compact, inexpensive rental suites.

“The idea behind it is to try and provide affordable accommodation within downtown and urban cores, not just in Victoria,” said GMC president Jordan Milne, whose company has been working with Vancouver architect Michael Katz and Victoria architect Eric Barker to create a 35-to-40-unit building that screams small and efficient.

And when they say small, they mean very small: 240 square feet in a studio suite. Rent would be about $599 a month.

GMC has been discussing the project with governments to determine if there may be some assistance, given the focus on affordability. “There is obviously a demand within the city,” Milne said, noting Victoria has one of Canada’s lowest apartment vacancy rates.

The building is currently zoned for a variety of uses, said Andrea Hudson, senior planner of urban design for the City of Victoria.

“It’s zoned CA4, which is the central area commercial office district,” she said. That allows for residential use as long as there is commercial use at grade. Because it is in the downtown, there is no minimum size required for the units.

At this point, the city has not seen a development application from GMC for the 769 Pandora site. The company hopes to submit a development permit application in the next three or four months, with a view to some action on the site before the end of this year.

– With files from the Victoria Colonist

from Western Investor March 2012


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