Victoria planners will take closer look at Ship Point lands

With their million-dollar views, the Ship Point parking lots will come under the microscope this summer, but there are no current plans to redevelop the land, say City of Victoria officials.

The city has issued a request for proposals for environmental and geotechnical assessment of its Ship Point waterfront lots. Long considered woefully underutilized, the downtown properties at 940, 960 and 1000 Wharf St. are used as parking lots, although 1000 Wharf St. is leased by West Coast Air for a float-plane terminal.

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Coun. Lisa Helps said the city is simply doing an assessment to see what’s there.

“One of council’s priorities was doing some kind of comprehensive harbour plan,” said Helps, adding she’s not aware of any plans to build anything there, or to sell the lands to a developer. “It’s part of council’s comprehensive approach to our harbour and our harbour plan, which has been talked about for some time, but I think we’re finally putting the pedal to the metal.”

There’s no question that parking lots aren’t the best use of the Ship Point land, Helps said. But anything that’s to be done there would likely require geotechnical or environmental exploration.

“There’s been talk of an outdoor theatre. There’s been talk of some sort of outdoor space — all of those sorts of things, many of which or any of which I imagine would require soil remediation,” Helps said.

Almost 20 years ago, Ship Point was being eyed for an arts centre and amphitheatre. In fact, the Provincial Capital Commission offered to build an amphitheatre at the site for no charge to the city for the 1994 Commonwealth Games, but the council of the day declined the offer.

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, the city’s appointee to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, is “delighted” the work is to begin and hopes it’s the start of a regional conversation about the harbour’s future.

“[The lots are] absolutely underutilized. It’s the gateway to our region and it needs to be enhanced,” Gudgeon said. “We need to engage with the public and find out what does the public value and how can we move toward a vision for our harbour.”

Downtown Victoria Business Association manager Ken Kelly called the city’s Ship Point properties prime. “There’s so many elements that are being put in place to draw everyone’s attention back to the harbour — everything from the David Foster Way to the Northern Junk buildings — that’s going to draw a lot of people’s attention and interest in that [property],” Kelly said. “I think that will stimulate further investment inquiries.”

The city has never before undertaken any geotechnical or environmental work on the site, said Mayor Dean Fortin.

“It’s important with this property to understand what we’re working with,” he said. “Our vision for the harbour is one of the priorities that council has selected and we look forward to being able to move that forward in late fall. But as a precondition of that, we actually need to know the condition of our land.”

The geotechnical and environmental work, expected to start in June, will include drilling bore holes to collect soil samples, and identifying any contamination in the area.

The city expects to receive the findings by the end of this year. The work is not expected to affect any of the special events planned at Ship Point throughout the summer and will be funded through the Tax Sale Lands Reserve.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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