The final curtain will soon be drawn at the Capitol 6 theatre in downtown Victoria after the city gave Jawl Properties the green light to go ahead with plans for a 10-storey office tower at the corner of Blanshard and Yates streets.
Following a public hearing Thursday night, council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning and development application for the project.
The mixed-use building will offer ground-floor commercial space and three levels of underground parking.
“We’re certainly pleased to see the feedback from council and of course it’s always nice to get a unanimous endorsement. We’re very excited about the project design that’s been proposed for the Capitol 6 theatre site and we look forward to bringing it to fruition in due course,” Jawl Properties’ Robert Jawl said in an interview.
When that will be is yet to be determined.
Jawl noted there are leases in place with tenants in the existing building and they still have to go through the development of detailed designs and working drawings.
“Certainly, we’re keen to get going as soon as reasonably possible,” he said.
There was little public backlash to the project on Thursday, though two residents expressed their concerns about the loss of a downtown theatre, questioned the need for more office space when people are still working from home and what effect the Jawl building would have on the neighbouring Yellow residential block.
Though some councillors expressed their sympathy for residents of the Yellow residential building, to the immediate east of the project, they were all in favour of Jawl adding another mixed-use project across the street from its Atrium building.
“It was really great to hear about the demand for high-quality office space in the downtown because a large part the economy of downtown depends on people coming to work downtown,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.
“And it’s good that people still want to do that and there are these buildings like this to show us that.”
Jawl had been asked about the need for office space in a post-COVID world when work-from-home and hybrid work models are becoming more of the norm.
He said top employers have been looking for better spaces for employees that are amenity rich, and with improved heating and ventilation systems, and built closer to services and attractions in the city.
Tristan Spark, vice-president at Colliers International Victoria, said the company’s most recent office report noted Victoria’s overall office vacancy rate increased to 5.9 per cent from 5.7, but it should be seen as steady.
The office vacancy rate in the downtown area dropped to 6.2 per cent in the third-quarter of this year compared with 7.1 per cent at the same time last year.
“The most notable trend is that employee return to the office is taking longer than most employers anticipated as a number of employees continue to want to work from home,” he said.
Coun. Jeremy Loveday said while sympathetic to those living in Yellow next door about how close the two buildings will be, he felt Jawl had approached the site thoughtfully.
Coun. Marianne Alto said the design is elegant and relatively restrained for what will be a downtown landmark.
“I do still think that there is a place for offices in a downtown and the fact that this has been designed the way it has reflects that new reality of what is likely to be demanded in the future,” she said. “It’s not 46 little boxes. It’s a big space that can be divided into 46.”
The Capitol 6, Victoria’s first multiplex movie theatre when it opened in 1981, closed in 2013 when the economics of it no longer made sense.
The building was bought by Jawl in 2015 and leased out to Regency Theatres in 2016, which renovated the theatre space and reopened as a luxury theatre that year.
Jawl Properties said it had given them a large break in rent just to have the space occupied and used until the office project is developed.