Redeveloped Times Colonist building start of ‘Midtown’

The new owners of the Times Colonist building are developing a concept that they’re branding “Midtown” in an overhaul and expansion that includes residential, office and entertainment components.

Merchant House Capital, which closed a deal on the building at 2621 Douglas St. last year, will meet with the Burnside Gorge Neighbourhood Association on Monday to provide more details.

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The company said it intends to undertake a large renovation and expand the building’s footprint.

“We’re heading there with our high-level plans for the building trying to generate some interest and support for our Midtown concept,” said Merchant spokesman Paul Silk. “It’s important for us to have them (the neighbourhood association) on board and interested in what we are doing.”

It’s the second meeting with the association for Merchant, which got generally positive reviews for its plans for what it calls the Victoria Press Building, a live-work-play project midway between Victoria’s downtown and Saanich’s Uptown.

Silk said most of the questions they’ve fielded — and much of the support they’ve heard — has come because of the residential component planned for Victoria’s tight housing and rental market.

He said it’s too early to say what kind of residential density they are aiming for, how it will be apportioned and what it will look like as the company has been focusing on its branding and organizing the renovation of the existing space.

“Right now we are trying to focus on the office and getting that full and realizing that part of the business plan,” said Silk.

Those plans include keeping the Times Colonist where it is.

Times Colonist editor-in-chief Dave Obee said the paper will be there long-term. “The Times Colonist has a long-term deal to be the anchor tenant in this building. It will continue to be home to our editorial, advertising, circulation, business and IT departments for the foreseeable future,” he said.

“We are looking at options for the location of our production departments. When the building opened almost a half century ago, these departments had to be in the same building, but that is not the case now. Pages can be sent to the press electronically,” Obee said. “It makes sense to have the bulk of our operations close to downtown, but it would be better to print the paper in a spot better suited to the distribution of each edition.”

Obee said it’s time to embrace change. “It is time for a full renewal. Our existing work space is rooted in the past, and our new work space will be more open and inviting, and use the latest thinking in office design,” he said. “A newspaper needs to change with the times. Transforming the building will help us to do that.”

Silk said they see the newspaper and education tenant Sprott Shaw as cornerstones of the Victoria Press Building, with other space filled with technology companies or government offices.

“This is a different and unique space and we see it as a real opportunity for this building,” said Silk. “It’s not like other buildings, the size of floor plates you can get in this building are hard to find in Victoria. That’s what we really liked about this from the beginning.

“Smaller tenants we might face some competition for, but people looking for a 10,000-square foot floor plate, there’s not a lot of places that have that size.”

Silk said they are hoping to establish a new kind of mixed-use development at 2621 Douglas.

“It’s important for us not to be following everyone around and doing what everyone else is doing,” he said. “We want to be doing something new and innovative.

“We focus on what we call transformational real estate and we feel that this site is kind of pining for that. We hope to plant a flag and say ‘this is Midtown’ and that others will do projects similar because we set a standard.”

Renovation of the building is expected to start before the end of 2018, and the residential component could start in three years.

The renovation will include a glass atrium that will bisect the existing structure. There will be street-level retail and 120,000 square feet of office space.

Merchant intends to establish a rooftop space with a restaurant or café, while the existing print building — an extension that was added to the main building a quarter-century ago — could in the long term become commercial or entertainment space.

“We’re now into the phase to find who fits into this space in a revitalized Midtown,” Silk said.

The Times Colonist building is 45 years old, and was built to house two newspapers — the Daily Colonist and Victoria Times. The newspapers merged in 1980.

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