Pandora development in full bloom

A former government office building will blossom into a four-storey residential and commercial development next spring.

— Pamela Roth

A former government office building located in the 500 block of Pandora Avenue will blossom into a four-storey residential and commercial development next spring.

Construction has begun to transform the former Ministry of Forests and Service Canada building at 595 Pandora Ave. into the Abacus — a 51-unit rental apartment complex with approximately 5,000 square feet of commercial space at ground level.

The units, ranging in size from 580 square feet to 1,500 square feet, will boast 10-foot ceilings, granite countertops, hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances. Units on the top floor will have two levels. The building will include a gym and 30 to 40 parking spots.

Victoria-based Cielo Properties is the company transforming the building that was constructed in the 1990s.

In 2008, Cielo was responsible for the conversion of the Vogue Building on Government Street, in between Johnson Street and Pandora Avenue, where 46 condos were created on three floors. Mountain Equipment Co-op is housed on the ground level.

When Cielo President Stan Sipes was told the government was vacating the building on Pandora, he thought about doing a similar conversion.

“I always thought it was a great looking building, but I never really thought much of it,” he said.

Transforming the building into residential homes is no easy task.

According to Sipes, the building has to be 100 per cent seismically compliant to withstand an earthquake. This caused engineers to create a new core around the existing core of the building. Since office space is typically quite open, extra columns for support have also been installed.

When all is said and done, Sipes believes the location will be a big draw for people who want to live downtown and have green amenities, such as bike storage and car charging facilities. There’s also a big demand for more rental housing in the city.

“The market is really calling out for new rentals that have all the bells and whistles versus an old stuffy place that hasn’t been renovated for 40 years,” he said.

“There’s a lot of young working professionals who like living downtown and might not necessarily need a car. It’s a busy area with lots of shopping.”

The 500 block of Pandora Avenue is undergoing a major transformation as developers tap into strong demand for homes in Old Town.

Anthem Properties completed the two-building, five-storey Union condo project beside Swans Hotel.

In September 2014, the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Building between Union and Fan Tan Alley also underwent restoration into rental properties.