Telus to build regional HQ, featuring ‘landmark architecture,’ near Crystal Garden

Telus Communications Inc. has agreed to buy the city-owned Apex site at Douglas and Humboldt streets to build a “landmark” office and retail building north of Victoria’s historic Crystal Garden.

The telecommunications giant says the “Telus Ocean” building will serve as the company’s regional headquarters for a staff of about 250 people.

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Telus will purchase the 27,790-square-foot property for $8.1 million and possibly up to $1.1 million more, depending on the final proposal approved by Victoria council following a rezoning process, the city says.

“The fact that Telus, which is British Columbia’s largest private sector employer, is making such a big investment in downtown Victoria is a strong sign of our economic recovery,” Mayor Lisa Helps told a news conference.

“And it’s terrific news that ensures that our downtown will remain the economic and the commercial heart of the region.”

Victoria and Telus have agreed to share the cost of remediating the triangular site, which was originally created by the infilling of James Bay in the early 1900s, the city says. Two car-rental firms currently occupy the property. It was once home to a furniture manufacturer and then a large-scale laundry plant.

The city’s portion of the cleanup costs is pegged at $2.37 million.

Scott Dutchak, Telus’s vice-president of corporate real estate, environment and sustainability, offered few details on the project’s overall price tag, expected height or design — except to say that it will be an “architectural landmark” and a hub for innovation.

“Telus is known for our cutting-edge buildings, our landmark buildings,” he said. “When you think about Telus Garden in Vancouver [and] our recently completed Telus Sky in Calgary, we don’t hold back.

“We create buildings that are leading edge in terms of sustainability. They create a natural sense of gravity that draws people and business and investment.”

Dutchak said Victoria-based Aryze Developments will spearhead a community-consultation process on the building’s design. The process is expected to get underway this month or early July, he said. “What will it be? What will it look like? It’s a work in progress.”

In addition to being a regional headquarters, the new building will house a Telus innovation centre that will showcase its latest technologies and be a place for brainstorming, Dutchak said.

Telus will occupy a significant portion of the building, with the remainder dedicated to commercial, retail, restaurants, events and gatherings, the city said.

Catherine Holt, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said the announcement came at an opportune moment as the city looks to recover from the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think it’s a fantastic piece of positive, optimistic news for Victoria at a time when we could really use it,” she said.

“It’s obviously been years in the making, and for them to proceed at this very difficult time is, I think, a huge vote of confidence in Victoria.”

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, echoed that assessment and said the project promises to be a welcome boost to the southern part of Douglas Street.

“For an area of downtown that could benefit from new development, I think that site is perfect,” he said.

Ty Whittaker, executive vice-president at Colliers International in Victoria, said there’s a pressing need for more office space downtown.

“Right now, if Telus was looking at moving, and moving into any sort of vacant space, there really isn’t much,” he said. “We have a vacancy of 5.1 per cent in the office market, which is very tight. There’s been upward pressure on rental rates.

“I think it’s both a byproduct of government providing the stability, but also private industry continuing to grow and expand, and technology continuing to grow and expand.”

Helps said Telus’s decision to purchase the site follows the city’s call for expressions of interest in 2017. The Telus Ocean project scored the highest among six submissions, she said.

“The city’s main goal for this site is a commercial development that will anchor the southern end of downtown and adapt one or more of the city’s key economic engines, including technology and innovation,” she said.

“We also are looking for the creation of high-value jobs, and the ability to continue to diversify our economy.”

Helps said the project will enhance the public plaza adjacent to Crystal Garden, while offering opportunities for the Victoria Conference Centre across the street.

Proceeds from the sale will go into a city reserve fund to advance other priorities, such as affordable housing, she said.

Telus is still deciding what to do with its other real estate holdings in Victoria, Dutchak said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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