Multi-year overhaul envisioned for land facing legislature

A swath of land across the street from the legislature will be developed into an office, residential and retail complex that will also be a community gathering place with a network of pathways and open spaces, its developers said Friday.

They released preliminary details of the project after a deal for the provincial land was finalized, with equal partners Jawl Development Corp. of Victoria and Concert Real Estate Corp. of Vancouver paying $34 million.

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The province has been selling public land in an effort to balance its budget. It put the six-acre Superior Street site, behind the legislature, on the market in October without setting a price, saying it wanted to encourage development on the land.

Plenty of potential buyers were enticed — in part by the province’s offer to lease 180,000 square feet of office space on the site for 20 years. Jawl and Concert have made an office leasing deal with the province.

In rough terms, about 376,000 square feet will go up in six buildings that will be built over seven to eight years, said Robert Jawl of Jawl Development. Offices will account for about 230,000 square feet, a range of residential options for 130,000 square feet, and retail about 16,000 square feet.

A focal point will be a central plaza with retailers and cafés facing the legislature fountain. A major goal is to create a public gathering area where people will want to spend time, Jawl said.

Consultations have been held with stakeholders and the developers made a presentation this week to about 50 community members at a James Bay Neighbourhood Association meeting.

“It was generally well received,” association president Marg Gardiner said.

Jawl cautioned that no firm dates have been set, but the first land-use applications could be sent to the City of Victoria this summer. Construction could start in 2015. The first office building would be ready in 2017, followed by a second office building.

B.C. government workers now housed in old office buildings on the site would move to the new facilities.

The target is to build offices to the top level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, which is called platinum. The residential goal is the gold level, one tier down.

“The site and its build-out will serve as a benchmark for large-scale, mixed-use projects as a showpiece for sustainable design,” Jawl said.

The site is bordered by Menzies, Superior and Michigan streets. The Queen’s Printer on the east side is not part of the sale.

Three historic houses are to be relocated on the site to the southeast at Michigan and Government streets. Two other houses will be moved to another location, still be decided, in James Bay, Jawl said. An earlier plan had the old houses moved to a Kingston Street location but that is not being considered now.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity not only for the James Bay area, but also for in and around the legislative precinct, and also the city of Victoria as a whole,” said Brian McCauley, president and chief operating officer of Concert Properties Ltd. and Concert Real Estate Corp.

“You can’t find a more high-profile site than that.”

Concert has been building in Victoria for many years. Its Era condominium project at 728 Yates St., is under construction. Other condominiums include 365 Waterfront at the Selkirk Waterfront, the Astoria on Fairfield Road and the Belvedere on Humboldt Street.

The Jawls are developers and property owners who rolled out the mixed-use Selkirk Waterfront project, built the Atrium office and retail building at 800 Yates St., and have more plans for downtown office construction on Douglas Street.

Several other B.C.-owned parcels in Langford recently sold for almost $6 million.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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