Editorial: Project good fit for Colwood

In the case of Colwood’s Capital City Centre project, less is indeed more. Vancouver-based Onni Group has submitted a development application for the property at Colwood Corners to city staff. The developer plans a mixed-use complex on the 12.5-acre lot. It would include about 150,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, as well as about 284 rental housing units for students and families.

When the project was launched in 2011 by League Assets, the plans were ambitious, to say the least. Capital City Centre was to be Vancouver Island’s largest development, consisting of residential high-rise towers, four office towers, four-storey, wood-framed residential buildings with commercial components, two-storey townhomes, multi-storey office buildings and a public plaza with various amenities.

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The project was to be built in phases over 20 years at a cost of $1.2 billion.

The first building was supposed to provide a new ground-floor location for existing anchor tenant London Drugs, topped by four levels of condos with 76 units in all. That building, called Triumph Gate, was supposed to open in late 2013 at the earliest, Adam Gant, a founding partner of League Assets, explained as the project was launched.

The next residential project was to be Victory Tower, a 25-storey, 220-unit building, slated to be completed by late 2014.

But no triumph, no victory, just a huge hole in the ground and some concrete work. The developers’ dreams far outstripped their resources and abilities. Although League Assets had $418 million in assets, it also had $233 million in liabilities, owed $369 million to investors and had serious cash-flow problems.

When the project stalled in 2013 for lack of financing, it consisted of a partly built parkade and the strip mall that was already on the site when it was purchased. Bankruptcy proceedings started.

It was a painful loss for investors and a massive disappointment for Colwood.

In 2014, Onni Group, an experienced Vancouver developer, took over the project for $17.5 million in a deal approved by the B.C. Supreme Court. Its plans promise less than the original proposal, but will deliver more — Mayor Carol Hamilton likes what she sees and doesn’t see any problems with approvals.

The Onni project is a good fit for Colwood and will brighten the Island Highway corridor. And the residential units will be most welcome in a region with a 0.6 per cent vacancy rate for rentals and house prices driven constantly upward as demand exceeds supply. The more modest pace of development will allow time to plan for needed amenities and for increased traffic.

Bigger, especially in this case, isn’t necessarily better.

The hole in the ground at Colwood Corners has been like a painful wound. It’s good to see that healing has begun.

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