UVic property downtown will become hotel, not student housing

A UVic graduate student representative is upset that plans for a university-owned downtown property have switched from student housing to a hotel.

Mehdi Hashemi, chairman of the University of Victoria Graduate Students’ Society, said his group regards the move as a broken promise, turning something originally identified as housing for grad students into a hotel.

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“It was a surprise, a disappointment,” said Hashemi, who said he hopes the university can now direct money from a hotel to urgently needed student housing.

UVic Properties, an entity that manages the university’s non-academic buildings, has partnered with Vancouver developer Chard Development to renovate the historic Duck’s Building at 1306 -1324 Broad St.

In 2017, the development plan was for a seven-storey condo building, with 104 units to be sold and 59 to be rented. UVic graduate students would be given preference for renting the 59.

Now the plan is to turn the building into a hotel. UVic Properties will retain ownership and receive annual revenue from a 99-year lease for the land. Chard and its partners will own and operate the hotel.

The plan is in its early stages and requires Victoria city council to approve a zoning change. The building sits in an area the city identifies as Old Town, because of its history, and carries a unique zoning.

No application has been made for a rezoning, and no time frame has been identified.

Peter Kuran, president and CEO of UVic Properties, said the new plan for a hotel will better generate revenue that can be pumped back into on-campus operations, including student housing.

The previous condo plans, even the units reserved for students, would have been rented at market rates. Any subsidies would have to come out of UVic’s budget.

The proposed 99-year lease arrangement is similar to what other universities do with their off-campus properties. Universities retain long-term ownership of the property, but improvements generate revenue for their academic mission.

UVic recently announced 620 new spaces of student housing to be built on campus. Those spaces, once occupied, are expected to free up more rental spaces off campus for graduate students.

The Duck’s Building dates to 1892. UVic took ownership in 2000, when developer Michael Williams bequeathed it to the university, along with several other downtown properties, including Swans Hotel.

The Duck’s Building was built by entrepreneur and local politician Simeon Duck. It was once infamous for housing a brothel on its top floor, from 1899 to 1907.

Byron Chard, president and CEO of Chard Development, said redeveloping the building as a hotel instead of condos would provide a better opportunity for heritage retention.

The building’s height will go from a proposed seven storeys to six, said Chard.

“Also, by changing its use to a hotel, we can highlight the building’s heritage even further by doing something on the interior as well as the exterior,” Chard said.

He said the city has lost a number of hotels in recent years and a new one would help fill a growing need in the local economy.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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