Victoria seeks buyer for key downtown lot

The City of Victoria is looking for a developer to buy and transform its high-profile property at Douglas and Humboldt streets into an economic engine for the south end of downtown.

Private sector watchers have suggested a hotel on the triangle-shaped Apex site, now rented on a month-to-month basis to car rental firms.

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Mayor Lisa Helps is not ruling out a hotel, but said Monday the door is open for other uses including technology, research and development, and advanced education.

“We want a high-quality commercial development that is going to advance our economic action plan.” Buildings could go up to 15 storeys, Helps said.

Victoria council wants the site — next to a paved public space and the historic Crystal Garden building — to be the “commercial anchor” to add vitality to the southern end of Douglas Street, Helps said. Crystal Garden is part of the Victoria Conference Centre complex.

Responses to Victoria’s request for expressions of interest are due by May 26.

The site has long been on the radar of developers and Victoria officials have talked for decades about doing something with the property. Today, the site has parking spaces and small buildings that house two vehicle rental outlets.

After reviewing expressions of interest for the Apex site, council can choose a developer or put out a request for proposals.

“The timeline depends on what we get back. I would like to see this whole thing sewn up by the end of the calendar year,” said Helps.

Commercial real estate agent Randy Holt, partner at Newmark Knight Frank Devencore Victoria, said the site is ideal for a hotel. “Could you get any better site than this, next to the convention centre and spitting distance of the Inner Harbour, surrounded by other hotels, Crystal Garden next door?”

Frank Bourree, hospitality industry consultant and principal of Chemistry Consulting, agrees it would be a good hotel site.

“There is still some risk in building a big hotel. It is easier to put in a $15-million to $20-million limited-service hotel in the suburban parts of town than it is to do a 150-200 room hotel downtown because of land and construction costs.”

Greater Victoria has lost about 800 hotel rooms during the past decade as many properties were redeveloped or converted to other uses, Bourree said.

“You could do a mixed use condo-hotel that would work in there if the developer is looking for an easier way to finance it.”

Bourree expects most interest to come from offshore, given that investors from China are interested in B.C. properties.

Other major projects are in the works for the area. A public hearing is set for Thursday for Concert Properties’ proposed 15-storey mixed-use development with rental housing for seniors at 701 Belleville St. The former bus depot at the west side of Douglas Street at Belleville is also slated for redevelopment.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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