Two towers to shape skyline across from Victoria city hall

Towers rising six and 13 storeys across from Victoria city hall are being designed to bring a dramatic change to a drab block of Douglas Street, now covered by asphalt and old buildings.

The 287,000-square-foot development by Victoria’s Jawl family will include offices and a mix of ground-floor retail and commercial uses in the latest major development on the north end of downtown.

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“We have a strong conviction in the long-term health of the city of Victoria and the downtown in particular, in terms of its underlying economic pillars,” said Robert Jawl, spokesman for Jawl Enterprises of Victoria. “Further, we have a particular confidence in this particular site as one part of a rapidly evolving and improving north end of the downtown.”

The project is the second major announcement this week from the Jawls, who unveiled a partnership Wednesday with Concert Properties of Vancouver to buy and redevelop a large block south of the legislature in James Bay for office, residential and commercial buildings.

The family earlier built the Atrium office-retail project at 800 Yates St., and over the years has built several others around the city.

The latest announcement is for a two-stage development on 60,000 square feet on the west side of the block, bordered by Douglas and Cormorant streets and Pandora Avenue. The east side of the block facing Blanshard Street is not owned by the Jawls.

Existing buildings on the site, including two former bank branches, are now used by the Russian Tailor, the Cool Aid Society’s REES program and Atomique Productions. About 120 parking stalls are also on the site along Pandora.

Plans call for two buildings totalling 287,000 square feet and two levels of underground parking with 220 stalls.

An application has been submitted to the city for a new comprehensive development zone and a development permit. Construction costs are not available.

Subject to approvals, construction on the proposed six-storey, 112,000-square-foot building, with a glass-encased rotunda, could begin late this year at 1515 Douglas, across from city hall. The start of construction of the 13-storey building, at 750 Pandora Ave., is subject to market conditions. It would have ground floor commercial space topped by offices totalling 175,000 square feet.

State-of-the-art technologies will be incorporated to meet a top level for energy efficient and environmental standards, the company said.

“It’s amazing how far the building science has come in the industry and, accordingly, the different solutions that the engineering teams are able to bring to bear that weren’t possible even five or 10 years ago,” Jawl said.

Triple-pane glazing, advanced heating and cooling systems, slender floor plates allowing more natural light to enter and long-lasting white terra cotta tiles on the exterior of the Douglas Street building are planned.

Terra cotta has a high insulating value and will act as a rain shield for the building, said project architect Franc D’Ambrosio, of D’Ambrosio Architecture and Urbanism.

Other features include an outdoor public space and an entrance plaza at the corner of Pandora and Douglas as well as extensive landscaping. D’Ambrosio said a “gracious Pandora Lane” will run between the two buildings and a large amount of secure bicycle parking will help reanimate the area.

An engineer specializing in acoustics is testing reverberation times for the rotunda, which will serve as a location for special events, similar to the Jawls’ Atrium building on Blanshard Street. A decorative art piece will hang under the skylight. “It will be very much like a structural lantern. It is going to be really spectacular,” D’Ambrosio said.

Formal leasing efforts are starting now for office and retail space, Jawl said.

On the ground floor, “we are going to seek high-quality, principally local users that bring uses that not only produce vitality, visual appeal and energy at multiple points in the day, but further result in amenities that not only benefit the office occupants above but benefit the downtown community more generally and really reinforce this block and this area as a desirable destination,” Jawl said.

Office space can be configured to suit tenants wanting anywhere from 2,500 square feet to as much as 100,000 square feet on a number of levels, he said.

The new development will add to momentum seen in recent projects in the area, including the Hudson housing and retail development at Douglas and Fisgard streets, the Corazon condominiums at 732 Cormorant St., and improvements to Centennial Square, Jawl said.

He said the development will foster “enhanced demand for retail uses, foot traffic, and also a reinforcement of the appeal of office space in this location.”

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