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Province puts James Bay block across from legislature on market

The province has put almost an entire block in James Bay, across the street from the legislature, on the market. It said the goals of the sale are to raise money to help balance B.C.
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The province’s properties for sale include aging office buildings and parking lots — but not the Queen’s Printer.

The province has put almost an entire block in James Bay, across the street from the legislature, on the market.

It said the goals of the sale are to raise money to help balance B.C.’s budget and to have the private sector build a mixed-use project on the land, in the 500 blocks of Superior and Michigan streets.

No price has been set, said Jamie Edwardson, a Finance Ministry spokesman. “The final price will be subject to the market.”

The offering does not include the Queen’s Printer building.

Also, five historic buildings would be moved to a Kingston Street site, where a smaller parcel is on the market, he said. The Legion on the larger property will be relocated to another building close to Queen’s Printer. The two properties total 6.2 acres, much of it devoted to parking lots.

Colliers International is marketing the land, calling it Capital Park, and aims to sell it by March 21, 2014.

Capital Park properties

“We are looking for a development that will revitalize and beautify the neighbourhood,” Edwardson said. “This development will keep the province as a major employer in James Bay and in the downtown areas, [and] keep the economic benefits that come with some high-value jobs. It will also open up new space for the province as well as for the private sector.”

A rezoning process is being started with the City of Victoria. Plans must go through the established consultation process with the city and James Bay community, the province said. Residential and commercial uses could be included.

The province is prepared to lease 180,000 square feet on a 20-year term, built to a high environmental standard known as LEED Gold. It now has 148,000 square feet, with 400 full-time-equivalent employees, in that location.

Office buildings on the land were built in the 1940s for temporary use and are largely “long past their economic life,” Edwardson said.

The two properties fall under a master development agreement created in the early 1990s called the Victoria Accord. The accord allows building up to six storeys on the west end near Menzies, and up to eight storeys near Queen’s Printer, the province said.

B.C. Assessment records show that the Superior-Michigan block, with Queen’s Printer included, is assessed at about $21.5 million.

Marg Gardiner, James Bay Neighbourhood Association, said, “If the lots are developed according to the Victoria Accord … it could be a great boon for Victoria and James Bay.”

NDP MLA Carole James, whose Victoria-James Bay riding encompasses the legislature, said the sell-off is worrying because it doesn’t appear the government has a long-term plan for the impact on James Bay, and is being driven primarily by a desperate desire to sell assets to balance the budget.

“You don’t want to keep empty parking lots, and there might be uses for those kind of lands,” she said.

“But I don’t get the impression government wants to be involved in any of those discussions. Government is looking for money, and what happens after that isn’t their problem. But it’s not the B.C. Liberals’ land, it’s the taxpayers’ land, and they should have the opportunity to engage in the discussion and talk about what is a good use for that land.”

Sales of assets are key to the province’s budgeting. As of the first quarter, it had reached about 42 per cent, or $200 million, worth of its $475-million sales target for the year, the province said.

Capital Park development would need new zoning for office use because a previous court ruling said “you couldn’t distinguish between types of user groups, i.e. government offices versus offices in the legislature precinct,” said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.

“I would look forward to quality development down there — office, mixed use or residential.

“I don’t want to preclude anything but it’s certainly of interest to have that land moved to a higher and better use than parking.”