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Heritage building across from Victoria City Hall on market for $7.85M

A heritage building across from Victoria City Hall that until a year ago provided housing for the homeless is on the market for $7.85 million.
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Built in 1912 and designated as a registered heritage commercial building, the Fairfield Block had a 62-bed rooming house on its upper two floors. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A heritage building across from Victoria City Hall that until a year ago provided housing for the homeless is on the market for $7.85 million.

The Fairfield Block, built in 1912 and designated as a registered heritage commercial building, had a 62-bed rooming house on its upper two floors. But the Pacifica Housing Advisory Association ended its lease at the former Fairfield Hotel, citing the Douglas Street building’s age, stairs that were difficult to navigate, a lack of kitchens and the fact there were only four shared bathrooms.

Residents were moved to other facilities.

Since then, Reliance ­Properties, which owns the building, has completed ­extensive exterior renovations, including repairs to the ­historic facade, new windows and sashes, plumbing and electrical work, and remodelling of the ground-floor commercial spaces on Douglas and Cormorant streets.

It’s been on the market for a month and Reliance chief executive Jon Stovell said interest is “very strong” from the heritage development community. He also expects interest from the non-profit sector, but believes the upper floors can’t work for single-room occupancy suites unless major changes are made.

“It’s a great opportunity for someone to re-purpose these upper floors, converting them to self-contained rooms with ­bathrooms and kitchens … or something more,” said Stovell.

Each of the two floors is 8,674 square feet.

A commercial agent listing the property notes that “flexible zoning” suggests the upper floors could be modified for larger apartments or a hotel.

The Fairfield Block is one of a few surviving works by architect H.S. Griffith, and is described by the Canadian Register of Historic Places as a solid example of the type of large-scale commercial building constructed in Victoria during the prosperous years prior to the First World War.

Character features include brick cladding and terra cotta decorative elements, a prominent cornice and paired double-hung wooden sash windows.

Pacifica Housing lost nearly $90,000 on the Fairfield during its last year, despite receiving a city subsidy.

Reliance signed a 10-year lease agreement with Pacifica in 2018 to operate the rooming house. Stovell said Reliance did not charge Pacifica rent, but did require that it pay administration fees and a share of property taxes, insurance costs, utilities and other expenses totalling about $6,500 a month.

Reliance had been covering the costs over the final few months to ease Pacifica’s transition.

The Vancouver-based ­developer is heavily invested in Victoria, with properties such as the Northern Junk site, Janion Hotel, 1244 Wharf Street and 31 Bastion Square.

In May, Reliance Properties bought nearly seven acres in Victoria’s Old Town District.

The company has acquired property over two city blocks from the Greene family. It includes the historic Capital Iron building and runs from the foreshore of ­Victoria’s Upper Harbour east to ­Government Street, including the ­Capital Iron parking lot and adjacent commercial buildings at 1950 Government St.

Stovell expects to release plans for the lands in the new year.

dkloster@timescolonist.com