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Reliance floats idea of hotel and condo tower on site of art deco B.C. Power Commission building

Existing four-storey art deco building at 780 Blanshard would be incorporated into project

Reliance Properties is looking for public input on its plans for a 77-room hotel and 102-unit residential tower on the site of what was once the B.C. Power Commission building on the fringes of downtown Victoria.

The Vancouver-based developer behind the reimagined Janion building on Store Street plans to hold an open house today to gauge public sentiment about preserving the four-storey art deco building at 780 Blanshard St. and adding an 18-storey residential tower on the site.

The building is currently home to several artists, who pay low rent for work space.

Jon Stovell, chief executive of Reliance, said when the provincial government moved ministry offices from the site to Capital Park in James Bay, the company saw an opportunity to snap up the building.

“The building lends itself really well to a hotel conversion because we don’t need to have balconies, we don’t need to mess up the facade and it’s sitting right there in this hotel ‘super zone,’ ” he said.

The building is bordered by Burdett Avenue, Blanshard Street and Fairfield Road, a stone’s throw from the Chateau Victoria, Executive House and Marriott hotels.

The four-storey heritage building was completed in 1949 as a hospital, but was used as a government building from 1950 until Reliance bought it in 2019.

Stovell said the city’s hotel industry has been “crying out for more rooms” now that tourism is rebounding from the pandemic. He noted the city lost a lot of hotel rooms during the pandemic, as the province bought hotels to house the homeless and other marginalized people.

“And a lot of the hotels that are in the city are older hotels and there’s just an appetite in the hotel and travel consumers for more choice and more variety and some newer hotel product,” he said. “And we need more housing across the full spectrum of housing types, whether it’s low-income or rental or condominium, we need more of all of it.”

That’s where the residential tower comes in.

Stovell said the tower would be in good company with other towers in the area.

“It’s very much contextual to bring in a tower element and [it] kind of fits within the [official community plan] as well,” he said.

Stovell said the tower would be condominiums rather than rental units, as the entire project — repurposing the heritage building, constructing the tower and improvements to the site — is likely to cost more than $50 million.

“We’ve got a very expensive heritage restoration to undertake, a lot of landscaping and public-realm improvements, so we really do need the stronger revenue stream from the condominium option in order to pay for it,” he said.

Paul Nursey, chief executive of Destination Greater Victoria, said at 77 rooms, the proposed hotel won’t have a big impact on the industry, though given there is no on-site parking, it would likely cater to visitors who arrive via the Clipper from Seattle, or by bus or taxi from the airport.

Nursey said it’s too soon in the post-pandemic recovery to determine how well the city is served by its existing hotel stock.

“We are seeing very good numbers coming out this year with the pent-up demand, but I’d like to see a year or two of things getting normalized,” he said.

“We were a little bit underserved before the pandemic and we lost a few properties to affordable housing during the pandemic, so I think there’s room for the ones that have been approved.”

Already approved are a hotel in the Duck’s Building on Broad Street in Victoria’s Old Town district, and the Wintergarden Hotel planned for the corner of Fort and Blanshard Streets.

Nursey said the city needs hotels at all “star” levels to be a successful tourist destination, but he noted another high-end boutique hotel downtown “is not an unhealthy thing.”

Stovell said it’s likely the project will not get in front of council’s committee of the whole before next spring.

Today’s public open house will be held on the building’s third floor at 780 Blanshard St. from 5 to 7 p.m.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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