B.C., developers reach deal to transform block near legislature

Most of a large city block near the legislature will be redeveloped into government office buildings, housing, retail and commercial space, and a network of open spaces under a deal between two developers and the province.

Victoria’s Jawl Development Corp. and Vancouver’s Concert Properties are teaming up to buy the land and build the mixed-use project on about six acres.

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A sales agreement has been signed. Details will be released when the sale closes in March, a provincial official said.

Construction costs are not yet available, but plans include two office buildings for B.C. government workers that will be built to high energy-efficient and environmental standards.

Robert Jawl, of Jawl Development, said his firm and Concert Properties are natural partners because of “strong shared priorities between the two companies with respect to high-quality and community-responsive developments and certainly a long-term orientation to the projects that we take on.” The project will be built in phases, generally from west to east, he said.

B.C. earlier submitted applications to the City of Victoria for subdivision and rezoning. Jawl said a further application is anticipated, with the hope of submitting it this summer. Discussions with the James Bay community, where the land is located, and the city will be held.

If all goes smoothly, office construction could start in spring 2015.

The first office workers could move in by 2017 and the government office portion of the project should be finished by 2019.

“We are glad to see this day arrive,” Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said. Benefits include tax revenues, employment and preservation of heritage buildings, he said. “It is a place where the province commits to good, high-paying jobs. That’s really important.”

The Jawls have a genuine commitment to community involvement, Fortin said, pointing to the Selkirk Waterfront project. “They build outstanding, award-winning buildings like the Atrium, which everyone can be proud of.” The 200,000-square-foot Atrium office-commercial building is at 800 Yates St.

The James Bay land went on the market in October to help the province balance its budget and to revitalize the 6.2-acre property where outdated offices, parking lots and historic houses are located. It did not publicize an asking price.

There has been significant interest among developers, particularly because the province will lease 180,000 square feet of office space under a 20-year term.

The parcel, known as the South Block, is in the 500 blocks of Superior and Michigan streets. The Queen’s Printer building was not sold and will remain in place.

Five other heritage buildings on that site will be moved to a smaller lot on Kingston Street.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said in a statement: “The redevelopment will keep the B.C. government as a major employer in the James Bay and downtown areas, retaining the economic benefits that come with these jobs.

“Right now, the block is a bit of an eyesore, but the new development will rejuvenate the area, opening up new space for government, as well as private sector opportunities. This is a prime example of how we can maximize the benefits of an underutilized property to help spur economic activity and benefit a community.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

Map of South Block near legislature

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