Major structural and seismic work is complete at the former Times Colonist building on Douglas Street, and the developer expects to welcome its first major tenants early in the new year.
David Fullbrook, chief executive of Merchant House Capital, said new tenants have so far committed to 63% of the 130,000 square feet of office space in the renovated and renamed Victoria Press Building at 2621 Douglas St.
The only client that has so far disclosed its intention is Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, a Victoria-based drug developer that has created a treatment for lupus nephritis and has about 55 of its 200 staff headquartered here.
Aurinia will take the entire third floor, said Fullbrook, while small manufacturing and food commissary companies are taking space on the second and first floors.
The Times Colonist moved its editorial, advertising and business operations to Upper Harbour Place in Vic West last September, and its circulation staff to Esquimalt. The newspaper is not returning to the Douglas Street location, where it had been since the building was completed in 1972.
The $26.6-million redevelopment includes a brewery or distillery and restaurant/pub as well as rooftop common area and restored facades and gardens along Kings Road and Douglas Street. A rooftop glass atrium will bisect the building.
Rezoning applications for the brewery/distillery are being prepared for Victoria city council. That portion of the redevelopment, in the rear of the building where the printing press had been located, is expected to be complete in June, said Fullbrook.
Plans for a 13-storey residential building at the back of the property are being drawn up by architect Franc D’Ambrosio, who is also designing Merchant House Capital’s proposed 20-storey hotel at View and Blanshard streets downtown.
The residential tower and connecting green space will complete what Fullbrook calls “an urban-style campus” on the site, where he said people can live, work and play. “It’s a 24-7 use of real estate … it has to hum and be used all of the time to make it really valuable,” he said.
The project hasn’t been without challenges. Seismic upgrades alone were worth about $5.5 million, said Fullbrook, but Merchant House Capital successfully applied to the City of Victoria to designate the building a heritage site, giving the company a 10-year partial tax exemption to assist with seismic upgrades and other costs.
Council accepted a staff recommendation that the original exterior was a good example of Late Modern commercial architecture, and that the building had heritage value as a symbol of 150 years of print journalism in the city. That meant a savings of $1.9 million.
Leasing out the space was another issue, especially amid the pandemic, which has left many companies in a holding pattern with staff working from home. Securing leasing is a big part of long-term financing for projects, Fullbrook said.
That and keeping renovation costs in check has been “like spinning plates,” he said, “and you kind of have to land it all at the same time.”
But he said the redevelopment is proving itself, attracting companies that pay high salaries and want large common areas, outside spaces and amenities for their staff.