The University of Victoria wants to turn a downtown heritage building that once housed a brothel into condos and housing for graduate students.
The Duck’s Building, at 1316 Broad St., would be redeveloped as a five-storey building with 59 units of housing, where UVic graduate students would be given preference as tenants. On each side of the Duck’s Building would be two seven-storey buildings with a total of 104 condo units to be sold at market value.
UVic has entered a partnership with Chard Development. An application for rezoning the commercial building into residential was made last month and is under consideration at Victoria City Hall.
The Duck’s Building — dating to 1892 — along with several other downtown properties, came under UVic’s ownership in 2000 when local businessman Michael Williams died and left them to the university in his will.
Williams had been a longtime Victoria property developer and an early specialist in re-purposing heritage buildings, most notably Swan’s Hotel and Brew Pub — formerly a warehouse — which also passed to UVic.
Peter Kuran, president and CEO of UVic Properties, said the design of the new buildings will pay respect to the history and heritage of the Duck’s Building, keeping the front facade and exposing a rubble wall currently hidden by adjacent structures.
“It will still very much preserve that Old Town feel,” Kuran said.
He said the building proposal has gone through at least two city committees so far, including the Heritage Advisory Panel, and it’s hoped it can go before city council’s committee of the whole this summer.
Coun. Pam Madoff, a longtime supporter of heritage preservation, said she has not been impressed so far with proposals for the Duck’s Building.
“It looks to me like a facade enveloped by new construction,” Madoff said. “There’s nothing wrong with new construction, but what they are proposing is nothing very new or exciting for Old Town.”
She said that the approach of the designers seemed to indicate they regarded heritage as a nuisance to be managed instead of a reason why the properties should be re-purposed. At one point, in a committee meeting, it was referred to as “the Lame Duck Building.”
“This approach doesn’t make very much sense in terms of what Michael [Williams] stood for,” Madoff said. “You look at what he did in Old Town and it’s nothing like what they are proposing.”
She said she thought other councillors might be overly excited by the thought of attracting graduate students as a demographic to live downtown.
She noted, and Kuran agreed, that once graduate students have taken up tenancy, they can’t be evicted once they cease to be students.
Under provincial landlord and tenant rules, the only way they can be evicted is for failure to pay rent or for being bad tenants. So the units might end up occupied by people who have no connection to the university.
“It’s all been a bit misleading since it’s been presented on the notion of bringing UVic students downtown and building on the city’s desire to have a UVic presence downtown,” Madoff said.
“What we are really getting is market condos and one building that may or may not have some connection to students,” she said.
The Duck’s Building was originally built by Simeon Duck, an entrepreneur and provincial politician.
Victoria historian Patrick Dunae said the Duck’s Building once housed a brothel on its top two floors, from 1899 to 1907. The brothel was run for a time by Stella Carroll, who was the subject of Stella: Unrepentant Madam, by author Linda Eversole.