New owners of heritage building consider hotel in redevelopment

Reliance Properties Ltd. is considering continued office use or a hotel in its latest heritage purchase in downtown Victoria — the colourful art deco-style building featuring a wildlife mural at 780 Blanshard St.

Vancouver-based Reliance paid $14.6 million for the four-storey property at the edge of the Humboldt Valley, said Jon Stovell, president and chief executive of Reliance. The company bought it from Victoria property owner Robin Kimpton.

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The provincial government’s Natural Resources Ministry is a tenant but will move out at the end of April to relocate in the new Capital Park development near the legislature, Stovell said.

He said there is already interest from potential office tenants in the 40,000-square-foot concrete building with 12-foot-tall ceilings.

The degree of internal improvements for office use would depend on the needs of a new tenant, but it has been continuously occupied, he said.

It needs exterior paint and improvements, which would be fairly easy to do, Stovell said.

Local artist Rick Thomas created the wildlife mural facing Blanshard Street in the early 1990s. The building’s existing colour scheme, with greens, a pale terra cotta and cream, is not original.

A hotel is being considered as it is in an area with other hotels, Stovell said. The company look at building more storeys.

The purchase adds to Reliance’s growing portfolio of heritage properties in Western Canada. It is known in downtown Vancouver for its heritage restoration projects. Other holdings in Victoria include the Northern Junk lands and the Janion redevelopment on Victoria Harbour, the Fairfield Block on Douglas Street and the Board of Trade Building in Bastion Square.

Tourism consultant Frank Bourree of Chemistry Consulting said 780 Blanshard St.’s elevation would provide good views for hotel patrons.

Victoria is “desperate” for another two or three hotels, he said, noting that there was a deficit of hotel rooms in the high season this year. Bourree expects additional storeys would be required if the building is converted into a hotel to make it a financially viable project.

Erin Glazier of Colliers International’s Victoria office announced the sale on social media, with Michael Miller of the same office. The property is listed on the federal-provincial database of Canada’s historic places.

“The B.C. Power Commission building is valuable to the city of Victoria because of its distinctive architectural design, and for its connection with the public-sector enterprise that helped shape British Columbia’s waterpower industry,” the government website says.

The building was finished circa 1950 and was originally intended to be a hospital.

However, it was first used by the B.C. Power Commission, created by the province in 1945.

“Although it is a fairly late expression of the art deco style, its fine architectural composition is integral to its heritage role within the urban core of Victoria’s downtown.”

The building’s geometric form and ornamentation are a counterpoint to the typically Victorian 19th century architecture, such as the nearby St. Ann's Academy.

Its design also brought a “sense of modernity well suited to its original function as the control centre for the electrification of the province in the mid-twentieth century.”

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