Times Colonist anchor tenant in mixed-use redevelopment

The new owners of the Times Colonist building have unveiled plans for a mixed-use development on the site. The Times Colonist will remain as its anchor tenant.

Merchant House Capital, which has closed the deal on the property at 2621 Douglas St., intends to reconfigure the existing building into an “urban campus-style mixed-use environment” that will eventually feature residential units at the rear of the site.

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David Fullbrook, chief executive of Merchant House, said in a concept called TC Evolution, the newspaper site will be remade over the next five years.

Fullbrook was behind the recent conversion of the Dominion Hotel on Yates Street into an apartment building.

“Part of our plan is to try and do a similar thing, but on a bigger scale,” he said.

“We have a cool building with a unique heritage and we want to cultivate that and we will try and distinguish ourselves from all the other product in the market by showcasing the authenticity of this important building.”

Fullbrook said he believes the newspaper office is a cornerstone of what will eventually emerge.

“Part of the attraction to this building is the culture of the building, its history, its importance to the city of Victoria, and a lot of that is keyed into the Times Colonist operations here,” Fullbrook said.

Merchant has signed a long-term deal with the newspaper, he said.

“It’s a lot more cost effective to retain a tenant that you value than it is to go and find a tenant you don’t have a relationship with.

“Retaining the Times Colonist and Sprott Shaw [College] in the building was always a vision of ours. Because of the volume of space, we have the ability to move tenants into swing space or permanent space and renovate behind them for new tenants — it’s all very achievable.”

Times Colonist editor-in-chief Dave Obee called the sale a good deal for both the neighbourhood and the paper. “We run a newspaper, not a building-development company. The building should be in the hands of a company that can maximize the value,” he said.

“For years, we have leased some of our free space to a variety of companies and government agencies. We were never able to find tenants for all of the empty space. At the same time, the building has been aging, and it needs a renewal.”

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

“Those newspapers merged in 1980, creating empty space,” said Obee. “Over the years since then, technological change has revolutionized the way newspapers are produced, so our staff is much smaller than it was in 1980.

“The Times Colonist will remain in this building as a long-term tenant,” said Obee. “We are looking forward to many more years at 2621 Douglas.”

There will be an extensive renovation. Fullbrook said the plan is to have 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 roof-top 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, over the longer term, become commercial or entertainment space.

Fullbrook said Merchant’s initial drawings of the property, which include a residential tower in the back parking lot, do not necessarily reflect what the finished TC Evolution will look like.

The company is planning a residential component, but the drawings are only to determine what density could look like on the site.

“They are not architectural examples of what the finished iteration would be. We did three or four massing studies trying to determine what certain densities would look like on the site,” he said. “Residential is a little bit down the road.”

Over the next 60 days, Merchant intends to start marketing the available lease space, and in the next 18 months it will start renovating. Fullbrook estimates the planning and renovation of the existing building will take three years, during which time a master plan for the residential component will be developed.

Merchant expects the integration of residential will be completed within five years.

Fullbrook said the project could act as an alternative for businesses that are looking for renovated space with high ceilings, large floor plans — each floor of the Times Colonist building has about 40,000 square feet — and a variety of amenities on site that could eventually include a brewery, taphouse, distillery and performance space.

Fullbrook said there is a gap in the market they expect to fill. “There is demand for higher quality office space than what is currently available outside of the Class A stuff being done now,” he said. “Seventy per cent of the market is Class B and most of that is not in great shape.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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