Victoria’s Old Town draws modern developers

New purpose-built rentals, retail projects breathe fresh life into the historic heart of British Columbia’s capital city

Western Investor
October 27, 2020

Rendering of new rental project by Denciti Development Corp.| Submitted
— Rendering of new rental project by Denciti Development Corp.| Submitted

Victoria’s Old Town, a swath of downtown that features historic buildings and Canada’s oldest Chinatown, is being transformed by both large and small-scale developers.

On September 25, a permit application was sent to Victoria council for a $64 million mixed-use project with 274 units of rental housing ringed by 20,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space on 1.5 acres at the north end of the OId Town district.

“I like mixed-use projects. I love an extension of the high street with residential on top,” said Garry Fawley, principal of Vancouver’s Denciti Development Corp., which is partnering with Nicola Wealth Real Estate on the development.

Rezoning is not needed for the 196,250-square-foot project on land bordered by Government, Herald and Chatham streets.

Construction is expected to start late next year and take 18 months, Fawley said.

Nicola Wealth worked with Denciti to buy the lands this year. The development at 610-624 Herald St. and 611-635 Chatham St. is to replace parking lots and the Fountain Tire building.

Rental rates have not been set yet but will be at market levels, aimed at appealing to young professionals, tech workers, and government employees, Fawley said.

“Victoria has a high percentage of people who rent yet the market has a serious shortage of purpose-built rental housing,” Fawley said. “This project will add much-needed rental housing supply to the city.”

The project reflects interest in developing Old Town, where new multi-family housing leading the curve.

Le Fevre and Co. built the Ironworks at 515 Chatham St., featuring 85 condominiums and commercial space. Le Fevre is also restoring an 1892 heritage building on Store Street, which the developer purchased from BC Hydro,

Le Fevre has redeveloped more than 10 Old Town buildings, repurposing often rundown structures for residential and commercial uses. After 17 years, it is nearing completion on its Railyards development on the north side of the Point Ellice Bridge. Construction starts next year on the final building, featuring townhouses and micro-sized apartment units.

Vancouver-based Reliance Properties announced this spring that was buying 6.7 acres of land, including the Capital Iron store, in Old Town, with plans for mixed-use development.

Meanwhile, tenants have started moving to one of the smaller builds Victoria has seen in recent years, and while it’s just three residential units and commercial space, the developer behind the project hopes the renovation of the Adelphi building in Old Town is a positive sign for the core.

Jordan Miln is the chief executive of GMC Projects, which bought the Adelphi and its neighbours at 574-576 Yates St. and 1306 Government St. last year.

Milne pointed out the commercial tenant they have lined up for what had been the Field’s Shoes store at the corner of the building is plowing ahead with tenant improvements.

Completed in 1892, the Adelphi is now completely renewed with modern infrastructure and residential amenities.

Milne said a 516-square-foot studio rents for $1,800 a month and 609-square-foot unit goes for $2,000.

“Any heritage project is a challenge to keep on budget because there are always unknowns,” Milne said. “This was not a money-making project for us, it was a chance for us to breathe new life into a really important building in Victoria’s Old Town.”

- With files from Victoria Times Colonist 

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