Land swap gives Victoria ownership of Crystal Garden

A land swap between the City of Victoria and the province puts Crystal Garden back into municipal hands and paves the way for a $30-million modernization and expansion of Point Hope Maritime in Vic West.

Victoria is giving its industrial Harbour Road lands, now leased to Point Hope, to the province. B.C. will then sell those lands to Ian Maxwell, owner of Point Hope shipyard, part of his Ralmax Group of Companies.

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B.C. is handing over Crystal Garden, at 713 Douglas St., to the city. Victoria is also getting a chunk of land at Ship Point, next to waterfront property it already holds, plus three small parks.

Property map B.C.-Victoria land map Feb. 26, 2014

Those properties were owned by the Provincial Capital Commission, which was dissolved by the province. The three-party arrangement was announced Tuesday at Point Hope.

This is the second round of swapping involving the city and province.

Victoria handed over Crystal Garden to B.C. in the 1970s for $1. B.C. granted the Harbour Road lands to the city for $1 in the 1980s.

Maxwell’s $30-million plan is to tear down all the buildings on the Harbour Road site except a large assembly building. New spur lines would be added to the marine railway and a new metal fabrication shop would go up on the south end of the site. A proposal from three years ago to build a graving dock will be reviewed.

In 2012, Maxwell tried unsuccessfully to buy the Harbour Road lands from Victoria. He would not say Tuesday how much he offered.

The construction schedule depends on timing of work on Johnson Street Bridge, he said.

Maxwell expects an upgraded yard would be in a stronger position to bid on work flowing from proposed liquefied natural gas projects in the Prince Rupert and Kitimat areas. “That work is ours to lose. It can come to Victoria.”

Additional work could double the workforce to 300, he said.

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said upgrades at Point Hope would create high-paying skilled-trade jobs and training for young people, and see the company become a leader in marine engineering.

No sale price is being released until the sale closes in late March, the province said.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said the swap was a value-for-value exchange; he figured it is worth about $18 million to $20 million.

When the city learned the Provincial Capital Commission was being dismantled, “we took quick action to express our interests, and over three short months have negotiated one of the largest land exchanges in Victoria’s history,” Fortin said.

“It is a big deal that the city now controls lands key to the development of the harbour.”

The exchange comes as the city embarks on a consultation process on the future of Victoria Harbour. The land-swap agreement lets Victoria protect strategically important waterfront land and helps further plans for a five-kilometre waterfront walkway, Fortin said.

Crystal Garden is leased by the city-owned Victoria Conference Centre for $385,000 per year, Victoria spokeswoman Katie Hamilton said. About 15 per cent of conference centre delegate days are attributed to the venue, which has gone through close to $10 million in renovations.

With ownership of the building, the Victoria Conference Centre will see the end to lease costs, and will get increased revenue from leases on the building’s ground floor, Hamilton said.

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