Time is right for Sooke commercial development, proponent says

The group planning a new commercial development off West Coast Road in Sooke says the time is right to add a major retail and office centre in the growing community.

Mid America Venture Capital, which has proposed a 156,000-square-foot, mixed-use development for the 6700 block of Eustace Road, extending toward West Coast Road, said it is responding to the district’s needs.

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“The expansion and growth of the area necessitated a look at this now,” said Mid America’s Trevor Dickie. The family that owns the land has been considering development there for years, he said. “The expansion on the Westshore and further west meant it was the right time,” Dickie said.

According to B.C. Stats, Sooke’s population grew by 3.5 per cent to more than 15,000 between 2019 and 2020, and was outpaced only by Langford, which grew by 4.9 per cent in the same period.

But while Langford has heaped on a mixture of development over the past 15 years - including residential, commercial, office, recreational and other amenities — Sooke’s expansion has been largely residential.

Dickie said Sooke is a commuter town, with most residents driving to Langford and the rest of Greater Victoria for work and services.

“Our feeling is there’s enough local population and activity that will support new retail and office [development] and, instead of commuting to the Westshore, the goal is to get into a situation where residents can service a lot of their everyday needs locally,” Dickie said.

“This is the start of moving from being a bedroom community to a more full-service community, and it would contribute to lessening the load on commuting and the highway.”

The early plans have received enthusiastic support from the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce, while Mayor Maia Tait has said the district needs additional commercial and office space.

Tait noted that the plans align with the goals of increasing employment in Sooke to reduce the reliance on commuting and to get more vehicles off the highway by offering more services locally.

The project is a concept at this point, with nothing set in stone in terms of what it will ultimately look like.

Early plans provided to Sooke outline 141,000 square feet of retail space spread out over six distinct building sites on the property. There are also plans for 15,000 square feet of second-floor office space.

Within the six sites, there is a variety of retail parcels, including 35,000 square feet for a grocery store and 45,000 square feet for another large-format store. Other retail spaces range from 6,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. A 25,000 square foot building offers flexible lease space for a range of retail and service providers.

Dickie said even at this early stage, Mid America has been fielding interest from grocery stores, complementary businesses such as financial institutions, and other retailers.

The company would like to see a mixture of retailers, restaurants, fast-food locations and services.

Britt Santowski, executive director of the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce, said the addition of office and commercial space will help nurture and grow home-grown companies – the district has more than 700.

It would give Sooke-grown companies expansion options beyond moving closer to the Victoria core, Santowski said.

Mid America’s plan calls for a controlled intersection off West Coast Road that would provide the main access point to the development, though it does suggest a secondary access point off Gatewood Road.

The company does not expect to break ground until next spring. The empty land would have to be cleared and prepared for construction.

Dickie said they are likely to build out the project in phases and will depend on the demand from the marketplace and how it responds post-pandemic.

“Coming out of COVID, there is real reset of a lot of things,” he said, adding that could also mean making space for government or private company satellite offices. “Coming out of COVID, there may be new business models.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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