Downtown Victoria’s sidelined development proposals

Victoria’s building boom of the new millennium has often been referred to as a “proposal boom” in light of the many large-scale real-estate development proposals that ultimately failed. The west shore of the Capital region was notorious in this regard where literally dozens of residential towers upwards of 45-floors were vetted by municipal offices and never built.

Despite the hurried pace of development on the west shore, many real-estate insiders remained doubtful that enough demand existed to successfully market even a small fraction of proposals, let alone the many dozens of towers that were making their way through the municipal process. However, in downtown Victoria where market conditions traditionally trump ego, multiple major development proposals that had all the makings of successful projects were sidelined due to changing economic conditions or struggles at the municipal level. And it’s those projects, projects that not only could have been built and many would agree should have been built, that have a story of demise few have ever heard.

1) Radius

The Radius project consisted of a 13-storey office tower (left) and a 17-storey residential tower (right). Radius would have re-defined downtown Victoria's northern book-end. Photo © Robert Randall, VibrantVictoria.

Millions of dollars went into the excavation of this mixed-use office, residential and commercial mega-project on downtown Victoria’s northern book-end at Blanshard and Caledonia streets. Digging and blasting had commenced in the summer of 2007. By early 2008 excavators disappeared, blasting stopped and workers walked off the job. All that remained was a massive excavation that to this day looks much like it did nearly five years ago.

Initially proposed as “The Well” in mid-2006 by Ontario-based Principal Holdings, Radius was envisioned as a two-tower project comprising of 13-storeys of office space and 17-storeys of condos flanking a multi-storey podium. Tenants were to include the downtown campus of the (since defunct) University Canada West, government offices and childcare facilities.

In the summer of 2007 site preparatory work began on a project that had not only been well received by City Hall and the community, it generated a strong response from home buyers purchasing pre-sale units. Condo sales were so strong, in fact, that rumours had begun circulating about the ability of the proponents to finance the project as regional construction costs continued to escalate while buyers were actively committing to unit prices. Nevertheless, excavation commenced despite concerns over too many residential pre-sales at relatively low prices.

Unfortunately the project’s momentum was short lived. The financial situation had come to a head whereby pre-sold units were incorrectly valued at the time of sale (not unlike the situation at the Bambu project, discussed below), millions of dollars had been spent on the excavation and commercial pre-leasing was unable to secure the financing for a $160-million project. In January of 2008 Principal Holdings pulled out and the property was put up for sale.

By mid-2008 Richmond-based Townline Group of Companies, coincidentally involved with the Hudson project one block to the south of the Radius property, purchased the land with tentative plans for a significantly reduced concept consisting of lowrise multi-use buildings. No definitive construction date for Townline’s rendition of the project has been set, and it remains to be seen what Townline will ultimately bring to the market.

Follow Townline’s purchase of the property on VibrantVictoria’s discussion forum here, and read the discussion on Radius from concept to cancellation here.

2) Centro

The Centro towers were proposed for the 700-block of Pandora Avenue and Cormorant Street. Victoria City Hall is pictured to the right. Image courtesy of Townline.

On the heels of its successful three-tower rezoning (including Victoria’s future tallest building) at Blanshard and Fisgard streets and the Hudson’s Bay Department Store renovation proposal on the same property, Richmond-based Townline Group of Companies purchased the Roth Site spanning much of the 700-block of Pandora Avenue and Cormorant Street.

In mid-2007 plans were released proposing a 19-storey tower and a shorter 14-storey tower, both residential with commercial groundfloors. Two versions were vetted with the taller tower facing onto either street.

The project fared relatively well at the municipal level passing through committee meetings and generating support for it’s general scope and scale. However, Centro was ultimately sidelined by Townline while the company struggled to maintain momentum with the costly renovation and redevelopment of the Hudson’s Bay building while the global economy sharply retracted. In an effort to shed assets and generate cash flow, Townline listed the Centro site for sale in early 2009. By the fall of 2011 Jawl Properties purchased the Roth Site from Townline with plans to redevelop the land into an office complex, although residential uses are not necessarily out of the question.

Follow Centro’s proposal from concept to cancellation on VibrantVictoria’s forum here.

3) 819 Yates

The sixth and final redesign for the Emaar property at 819 Yates is pictured above. Emaar purchased the site in 2008 and set upon a major redesign, although the economic downturn cancelled the project. Image courtesy of Emaar Canada.

A proposal for 819 Yates Street submitted to City Hall in 2006 for an “s-shaped” 16-storey residential tower spanning the entire block between Yates and View streets. Later that year the design was altered to include two sections, one 21-storeys tall (along Yates), the other 10-storeys. In early 2007 the design was altered once more due to zoning issues with the wave design, and became two 14-storey towers.  By spring of that year the design was altered yet again, this time to  two towers of 17- and 11-storeys.

One year later in the spring of 2008 the design was re-envisioned for the fifth time as two towers of 18- and 17-storeys when Emaar Canada, subsidiary of Emaar Properties of Dubai (developer of the World’s Tallest Building, Burj Khalifa), purchased the property. Emaar eventually settled on a sixth and final redesign that scaled the towers back to 17- and 11-storeys. This version eventually received municipal approval.

Before the project could be brought to market the economic downturn forced Emaar to sell the newly rezoned site. In 2011 Chard Development of Vancouver purchased the property although no details are available on the new developer’s vision for the site.

Follow the entire Emaar Project from inception to acquisition by Chard Development on VibrantVictoria’s forum here, and the land under Chard’s ownership here.

4) 937 View/930 Fort

Originally proposed as a 17-storey condo, this project was ultimately shortened to 14-storeys and underwent a substantial design change before being canceled. Rendering courtesy of Number 10 Architecture.

On a surface parking lot between the 900-block of View and Fort streets, a proposal surfaced in late 2007 that many in the community felt would be championed by City Hall and add some flair to a city block dominated by the 19-storey 1960’s era View Towers.

The concept called for a 17-storey condo tower with groundfloor retail space and several townhomes facing onto Fort Street. Despite years of wrangling at City Hall with a resultant design and height concession (much to the chagrin of the Downtown Residents Association), council ultimately tabled the proposal in 2010 and sent it back for a further design and massing review. Decreased to 14-storeys complete with design changes, a shroud of silence enveloped the proposal and few details emerged from that point onward. By early 2012 the property had been put for sale.

Follow this project on VibrantVictoria’s forum from concept through cancellation here.

5) Mogensen Towers & View/Vancouver proposal

Mogensen towers, left, were proposed in the early 2000's at View and Vancouver streets. View/Vancouver, proposed on the same property in the mid-2000's, was also cancelled.

Two relatively little-known proposals surfaced in the early-to-mid 2000’s for a large lot at View and Vancouver streets. The first proposal, dubbed Mogensen, was for two 13-storey condo towers. However, the project failed to solicit support from City Hall and while details are slim, the application was eventually repealed and the property put up for sale.

The View/Vancouver proposal (for lack of a better name) appeared in 2006 under the leadership of a different team of developers. Reminiscent to James Bay’s Shoal Point, View/Vancouver was a 14-storey, brick-clad, stepped-down design with a groundfloor retail component. Seismic issues with the site were identified, which is located adjacent to the infamous sinking intersection (eventually rectified by the City of Victoria in 2008), although it is not clear whether or not these issues led to the cancellation of the proposal. In 2009 this property was put up for sale.

The site is currently part of a proposal to build an 8-storey condo dubbed Jukebox. Considering the delay with Jukebox, which was initially expected to begin construction in early 2012, this site may yet claim it’s third victim in recent memory.

6) The Stafford

The Stafford was approved at 13-floors.

Proposed in 2002, The Stafford property at 860 View Street was successfully rezoned for a 13-storey condo and marked the first successful rezoning for a residential tower in downtown Victoria since the late 1990’s. The project may have been proposed with the intent to “flip” the property to another developer, a practice some land owners engage in as a means of increasing land value, and was never intended to be built. This became the likely scenario when the property was put up for sale circa 2003 on the heels of the successful rezoning.

Victoria developer Stan Sipos of Cielo Properties purchased the land and in 2003 construction of the 8-storey 860 View project commenced. Upon completion 860 View was one of the very first, if not the first, major residential projects to be built in downtown Victoria in the new millennium.

7) Mozart Building

Eric Charman's Mozart Building was approved and reached the excavation stage before being cancelled. Image courtesy of Eric Charman.

Victoria developer Eric Charman attempted his second downtown highrise proposal with Mozart, a 12-storey mixed-use commercial, office and residential project. Mozart, proposed for the 700-block of Yates Street, received fairly swift approval from City Hall and got as far as partial excavation in 2003 before the project was canceled.

It is largely believed that Charman’s ill health forced the early cancellation of the project.

The land was put up for sale and ultimately landed in the hands of Vancouver-based Concert Properties, a developer with several project under their belt in the Victoria area. Concert’s vision for the site began with a 12-storey office tower and eventually became a 15-storey residential building, dubbed Era, which is presently in early stages of construction.

Learn more about the Mozart Building here, and follow the Era project on VibrantVictoria’s forum here.

8 ) Crystalview

The final redesign of the Crystalview project, canceled in 2008. Rendering courtesy of Westbank.

Vancouver-based Westbank Corporation had bold plans for the site at the corner of Douglas and Belleville streets after securing the property from developer Austin Hamilton who himself several years earlier failed to secure rezoning for a 17-storey residential tower.

After successfully rezoning and developing three residential buildings in Victoria (Parc Residences, Shutters and The Falls), Westbank’s fourth and most ambitious proposal was envisioned as a 21-storey luxury condo with a substantial portion of the tower’s podium earmarked for a tenant the developer believed would cement a successful rezoning: the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s (AGGV) long-envisioned downtown satellite art gallery. The concept, together with a public sculpture garden at the expense of the developer, was called Crystalview in homage to the Crystal Gardens situated across the street.

Despite support from the AGGV and the owner of the Queen Victoria Hotel immediately to the south of the property, City Hall and James Bay’s community association (the property sits at the nexus of downtown Victoria, Fairfield and James Bay, on the James Bay side) kept objecting to the size, scope and design. After multiple design changes courtesy of the municipal process, Crystalview ultimately became a two-winged 12- and 9-storey complex. It was then that the AGGV reluctantly pulled it’s support citing frustration over delays and uncertainty with the project’s future. In 2008, nearly two years after the initial proposal surfaced, the project was officially canceled and AGGV’s director Shirley Madil, who was at the time seen as a newly appointed leader with the wherewithal to secure a satellite art gallery, announced her resignation.

Over four years later the Crystalview property remains a single-storey aging structure (ex-motel) with boarded-up windows. Follow the entire Crystalview story, from concept to cancellation, on VibrantVictoria’s discussion forum here.

9) 1048 Johnson

1048 Johnson was proposed at the corner of Cook and Johnson streets before falling by the wayside in 2007.

A 10-storey condo, dubbed 1048 Johnson, had been proposed circa 2005 at the corner of Cook and Johnson streets. Generally well-received by Victoria City Hall, the project never generated a great deal of media attention or community involvement and met the majority of guidelines as set out in Harris Green’s development plan. At 10-storeys the project would have stood at the same height as adjacent buildings.

Circa 2010 a Victoria-based developer assumed control of the property and is currently building the 10-storey Mondrian condo project on the site.

Learn more about 1048 Johnson by following the discussion here.

10 & 11) Kirk Hall and Ballantyne office towers

The Ballantyne proposal (left) would have been built at the site of the Rexall pharmacy on Douglas Street. The Kirk Hall proposal, envisioned for the Kirk Hall gym site on Courtney Street, would have connected to the adjacent church to the east of the Ballantyne site. Images courtesy of de Hoog Kierulf Architects.

In the mid-2000’s downtown Victoria’s office vacancy rate had reached historic lows. This opportunity resulted in a mad rush to rezone multiple properties and sign tenants outgrowing existing offices or new tenants seeking entry into the downtown market. Ultimately only one project, Jawl Properties’ Atrium Building at 800 Yates Street, was actually completed. Tri-Eagle Development’s 15-storey Gateway Green tower at Blanshard and Fisgard streets was approved by council and the developer still maintains a 60-day tenant-signing-to-shovels timeframe should an anchor tenant be found. Concert Properties had an application to rezone a property in the 700-block of Yates Street (discussed in this article under “Mozart”) for a 12-storey office building, however, Concert ultimately decided to pursue a residential tower instead. And there was the Radius project, discussed at the top of this article, which received approval and got as far as excavation before being canceled.

While the above four projects garnered the majority of attention, two lesser known proposals surfaced in 2007. The first was Westbank Corporation’s vision for a 14-storey office tower at the present-day Rexall pharmacy site on Douglas Street, then known as the Ballantyne Building. Westbank partnered with the adjacent St. Andrews Presbytarian Church due to the proximity of the church’s properties. As the design process progressed the project was scaled down to 9-storeys and was described as a fusion of Hong Kong’s Bank of China building and the Gateway building at Victoria’s Selkirk Waterfront. Unfortunately the partnership between the two parties fell through and the church put forward it’s own 10-storey application for it’s Kirk Hall site on Courtney Street in 2008.

Both proposals, however, were short-lived. The Kirk Hall development in particular lead to a debate about taller buildings in Old Town and whether the building’s scale would be appropriate despite reducing it’s height to 9-storeys. Nevertheless the Kirk Hall tower, which would have replaced the aging Kirk Hall gymnasium on Courtenay Street, was deemed unfeasible and was canceled in early 2008 shortly after the standalone concept surfaced. Westbank’s Ballantyne concept was also abandoned at around the same time.

Follow the Ballantyne office proposal from inception to cancellation here, and the Kirk Hall proposal here.

12) Bambu

Bambu was proposed in the early 2000's and ultimately cancelled prior to the start of construction. Rendering courtesy of Amadon Group.

Bambu was one of the first downtown Victoria residential proposals to surface in the new millennium. Vancouver-based Amadon Group proposed a two-building, 7-storey condo project with groundfloor retail spanning between the 500-blocks of Pandora Avenue and Fisgard Street. The project was relatively well received, although it fell victim to financial woes ultimately related to too many units selling too quickly to keep pace with rising construction costs. The project made it as far as the site preparation stage in 2005 and shortly thereafter was canceled.

Vancouver-based Anthem Properties purchased the site from Amadon Group in the mid-2000’s and subsequently put forward their vision for the site, dubbed Union. The two-building, 5-storey project is currently under construction.

13) The Cosmopolitan

The Cosmopolitan, a rental building in the 600-block of Fort Street, was canceled by City Hall. Shortly thereafter City Hall released a rental strategy in the hopes of encouraging similar projects throughout the City. Rendering courtesy of Jurgen Weyand.

Victoria developer Jurgen Weyand believed his concept for a rental building along the 600-block of Fort Street proposed at a time when the majority of residential development was in the form of  market condominiums had the right stuff to garner municipal support. City Hall’s planners, however, disagreed, and councillors decided to refrain from sending the project to a public hearing where residents would have been presented with the opportunity to voice support for or opposition to the project.

Despite council’s decision on Cosmopolitan, soon after canceling the proposal the mayor revealed a rental strategy to encourage the development of rental properties throughout the City of Victoria. Although the timing of the report was ironic in the eyes of Weyand, the developer remains optimistic that at some point a project will proceed at this site . The exact date and scope of a future development remains to be seen.

Follow the Cosmopolitan proposal on VibrantVictoria’s forum here.

Map of cancelled projects in downtown Victoria. © VibrantVictoria.

Multiple smaller projects throughout downtown Victoria also failed to move forward, however, they were deemed to be beyond the scope of this article. Cancelled projects outside of the immediate downtown Victoria area were also purposefully left out. VV

Stay up to date with VibrantVictoria via our Twitter page here, and our Facebook page here. See a list of additional cancelled projects throughout the south Island as shown on VibrantVictoria’s Major Construction Projects list, and view SkyscraperPage’s listing for cancelled projects in Victoria here.

© Copyright 2012 by Skyscraper Source Media Inc. All rights reserved.



Responses to this Headline or Article

The five most recent replies to VibrantVictoria.ca's discussion forum's Cancelled development projects throughout Victoria and the south Island thread, the most relevant thread to the above headline or article:

Mike K.

Oct 31, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I don't think we have a separate thread for this topic. If we do if someone could point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated.

It's been almost a decade since Bambu, a 7-storey two-building condo with groundfloor retail space was cancelled in Chinatown -- likely the first major cancelled project since The Stafford (13-storey condo at 860 View) was rezoned then immediately flipped circa 2002/2003. Since Bambu's demise a dozen other projects met the same fate just within the immediate downtown Victoria area. Dozens of other projects were cancelled or placed on (permanent) on-hold status throughout the south Island.

Quote: Image

Downtown Victoria’s sidelined development proposals
By Mike Kozakowski, VibrantVictoria.ca
Downtown Victoria’s sidelined development proposals | VibrantVictoria.ca

Victoria’s building boom of the new millennium has often been referred to as a “proposal boom” in light of the many large-scale real-estate development proposals that ultimately failed. The west shore of the Capital region was notorious in this regard where literally dozens of residential towers upwards of 45-floors were vetted by municipal offices and never built.

Despite the hurried pace of development on the west shore, many real-estate insiders remained doubtful that enough demand existed to successfully market even a small fraction of proposals, let alone the many dozens of towers that were making their way through the municipal process. However, in downtown Victoria where market conditions traditionally trump ego, multiple major development proposals that had all the makings of successful projects were sidelined due to changing economic conditions or struggles at the municipal level. And it’s those projects, projects that not only could have been built and many would agree should have been built, that have a story of demise few have ever heard. Read more>

Rob Randall

Oct 31, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Herb Kwan, who's on a comeback with some great Harbour designs had a rough streak with a few cancelled major condos:

1000 block Yates, besides Moxies (still empty pit).

1048 Johnson, revived with new ownership and architect as "The Mondrian" currently under construction. Went through at least two or three major redesigns before abandonment.

ZGsta

Oct 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Great article, it's very interesting to think of what the core of Victoria would be like if all of those had managed to be built (although I have no doubt that there was no possibility the market could support all of these happening), and it's encouraging to see that there is something going up on some of these sites now.

Biggest missed opportunity? I'd say Radius. I'm tempted to say Crystal Court redevelopment, but that area seems to be doing alright despite the boarded up motel. The Radius pit is such a blight, and right at the entrance (kind of) to downtown.

Why did you choose not to include Gateway Green (although I see it is mentioned)? Is that because it technically still is good to go at any time?

Rob Randall

Oct 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Last I heard, Gateway was just waiting for a major tenant in order for them to start work.

Mike K.

Oct 31, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Thanks, ZGsta. As Rob said, Gateway Green is technically on-hold and awaiting an anchor tenant. Tri-Eagle Development maintains they can start building within 60 days of signing an anchor.

I agree that Radius is the biggest missed opportunity in downtown Victoria. Townline's purchase of the land and subsequent vision for low-rise buildings is the wrong way to go at downtown's "book end," in my opinion. We need something big and shiny there and not a project that will be lost in translation.

Quote: 1000 block Yates, besides Moxies (still empty pit).


Did we ever see renderings for this proposal? I left this project out as it seemed to have faltered early on in its proposal stage and it lacked the necessary push to get it built.

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