Heritage status eyed for Victoria Press Building

Victoria city councillors will decide next week whether to designate the former Victoria Times Colonist building a heritage site and grant the new owners a 10-year partial tax exemption to assist with seismic upgrades.

Merchant House Capital, which purchased the Victoria Press Building at 2621 Douglas St. in 2017, has applied for the exemption through the city’s heritage tax-incentive program.

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Under the program, building owners seeking to revitalize an under-used heritage building are eligible for a tax exemption of up to 10 years to cover seismic upgrades and other eligible costs, a city report says.

Staff are recommending approval, noting that the original exterior of the 130,000-square-foot building stands as an example of Late Modern-style commercial architecture.

As well, “the building has heritage value as a symbol of 150 years of print journalism in Victoria,” the city report says.

Merchant House Capital plans to spend $26.6 million converting the building to a mixed-use office space with a distillery, roof-top common area and restored facades and gardens along Douglas Street and Kings Road. The Times Colonist will remain a tenant.

The cost of the seismic upgrade alone is expected to cost $5.6 million.

“The total value of the proposed property tax exemption over 10 years is less than the cost to seismically upgrade the building based on either current or projected property taxes after the renovation,” a city report says.

A 10-year tax exemption based on current property values would be worth $1.9 million, city figures show. Once property values rise following the renovation, a 10-year tax exemption would be worth about $4.5 million.

“The project will be a significant step forward in advancing the city’s goals for the Humber Green area of the Burnside Gorge Neighbourhood,” the report says. “Staff therefore recommend that council consider supporting the application.”

David Fullbrook of Merchant House Capital said Friday that such tax incentive programs are critical to protecting the city’s heritage structures as the building code becomes more stringent and costs rise.

“Otherwise, they’re just not going to be viable and people are going to tear these buildings down,” he said.

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