New hotel in Old Town gets a green light from Victoria council

Victoria council has approved a project to overhaul two heritage buildings in Old Town to make way for a 139-room hotel.

The 127-year-old Duck’s Building and the adjacent Duck’s Carriage Factory, also known as the Canada Hotel at Broad and Johnson streets, are among properties bequeathed to the University of Victoria by the late Michael Williams, the developer and businessman behind Swans Brew Pub and Restaurant.

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UVic Properties and Chard Development plan to use the site to build a Hyatt Centric-branded hotel covering almost a full block of Broad Street. The proposal preserves the front and rear walls and parts of the side walls of the Duck’s building, as well as an original rock wall of the Carriage Factory, which dates to 1874.

Developer David Chard has previously said new building codes make it challenging to preserve any more of the Duck’s Building while ensuring safety in the event of an earthquake, and that substantial alterations to the Carriage Factory have left only the rock wall worthy of protection.

Councillors approved the project Thursday, with Coun. Ben Isitt the only councillor voting against it.

The plan has been opposed by heritage advocates concerned that not enough of the buildings will be preserved. But at a public hearing, the project received support from many in the business community.

Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, said the new hotel would help the tourism industry remain competitive when bidding to bring large events to the region, noting the recent conversion of hotel rooms to supportive-housing units has decreased the supply.

Nursey said downtown Victoria needs 400 to 600 new hotel rooms in the next 18 months to two years to stay competitive with other cities. “It’s hard for us to put together the supply to compete in these bids anymore, so that has huge knock-on effects in terms of our ability to tackle seasonality, and that has knock-on effects in terms of every small business, medium- and large-sized business that receives any revenue,” he said.

Ian Sutherland, chair of the Victoria Downtown Residents Association land-use committee, said the majority of residents who attended engagement sessions expressed concerns about negative impacts on the heritage buildings and potential effects on the character of Old Town.

He said the association sought advice from two experts who said the application did not appear to meet national standards for heritage preservation. “What is proposed here is more like taxidermy, rather than keeping an animal alive,” he said.

But Coun. Jeremy Loveday said he heard clearly from those in the business community that this type of hotel development is “sorely needed” and will contribute to the city’s economic development.

He said he disagreed with the characterization of the project as a demolition of the heritage buildings, saying there are “demolition elements” to the project.

“I do have a general concern about facadism, but I think there are times and approaches when that seems like it’s the only approach that will work, in terms of making sure that these types of buildings will withstand an earthquake,” he said.

Isitt called the proposal “a good project” that would be better suited to a vacant piece of land, or somewhere “that’s not encumbered with two very rare heritage buildings, that are among the oldest in the community.”

He said approving the project would send “a dangerous signal” to land owners to treat their heritage properties as a blank slate.

“And the logic of it, ultimately, is we wouldn’t have an Old Town, which would attract tourists and investment, and the whole type of, I guess, vibe that this applicant’s business model appears to be predicated on,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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