Ship Point revitalization a case of unpaving paradise

Like the Joni Mitchell song in reverse, the City of Victoria hopes to replace a parking lot with a bit of paradise as it revitalizes Ship Point.

Ship Point — the parking lot below Wharf Street at Fort Street — has for years been derided for providing parked cars with some of the best views in the city.

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“A key and potentially beautiful site along the waterfront being used as a parking lot has long not been viewed as the best use for the site,” said Joaquin Karakas, senior urban designer for the city and manager of the Ship Point project.

A nine-metre drop now separates Wharf Street from the waterfront parking lot below.

Karakas said one of the key goals is to better connect downtown pedestrians to the water’s edge. “That’s achieved by incorporating a grand staircase and some sloped or terraced lawn areas that integrate some ramping that would be accessible to all users,” Karakas said.

The design concept envisions a new pavilion to the north end of the site, providing the lower level with a year-round commercial building. Much of the existing parking lot would be replaced with sloping, terraced green space.

The concept includes underground parking for 25 to 30 vehicles.

The roof of the new pavilion would become an extension of Wharf Street, providing a viewing platform.

A new waterfront amphitheatre for events and festivals would take advantage of a sloped lawn as a seating area.

“There’s a sloped portion [there] now, but right now it’s heavily landscaped with trees and isn’t really accessible for people to go in and sit down. So one of the things we’re looking to do is kind of open it up a little bit and provide a range of opportunities for people to stay and linger at the site, while also implementing a key portion of the [David Foster] Harbour Pathway for people moving through the site,” Karakas said.

The plan includes an urban beach near the Harbour Air Terminal.

Mayor Lisa Helps called the concept exciting.

“It reads as a park. It is what is deserving and befitting of a capital city,” Helps said.

The city is seeking public input on the concept at two open houses at the site this weekend — Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. — and through an online survey beginning Saturday at the city’s website, victoria.ca.

No cost has been set for the project. If approved, it will almost certainly be undertaken in phases.

Victoria councillors will discuss the concept in September and provide direction before detailed design work occurs.

“To me, the most important part of this plan is getting to implementation, because we’ve had plan after plan after plan after plan,” Helps said. “So I’m looking forward in the fall to staff bringing us an implementation plan … and actually getting shovels in the ground on a part of this next year.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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