Fort Street is quickly emerging as a hub for young creative talent who are becoming a driving force in Victoria’s economy.
Over the past five years, the newly-branded Upper Fort neighbourhood, stretching from Blanshard to Moss streets on the edge of downtown Victoria, has undergone a revitalization from Antique Row to a commercial corridor for locals and tourists.
Suzanne Bradbury, chair of the Downtown Victoria Business Association and co-chair of Fabulous Fort, said a number of quality restaurants, boutiques and businesses are attracting new creative-type residents to the area, many of whom are from the technology sector.
“We’ve seen this historic avenue evolve from a tourism and antiques focus to a rich commercial corridor full of amenities and services serving our local community,” said Bradbury. “Our real estate and rents are very affordable compared to other larger centres. It’s incredibly beautiful. We have this sort of richness and vibrancy in our urban core. With all those things combined, I think Victoria is starting to attract a lot of attention on a national scale. A lot of eyes are turning our way.”
Bradbury added organizations such as Fabulous Fort — a collection of Fort Street businesses — have helped raise the profile and identity of the street. Businesses have come together to tackle issues collectively and create public spaces such as the parklet on Fort Street outside the Dutch Bakery.
The most recent project to take root in Upper Fort is Black and White, a six-storey condo development at the corner of Fort and Cook streets. Being the premier project of the Upper Fort neighbourhood, it will consist of a number of one and two-bedrooms condos. Construction is expected to begin in November and be complete in fall 2018.
Mike Miller, president of Abstract Developments, said the project will be a catalyst that jumpstarts the next wave of development in Upper Fort.
“About a year-and-a-half ago, I could feel it. You could feel the ground shaking and the shift happen and the whole environment shift,” Miller said, adding the company recently moved its corporate office from Oak Bay Avenue to Fort Street where staff have “taken in” the area as well.
“The timing for Upper Fort is now and we feel that there’s so much more to come.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said this is one of the most exciting new buildings in the city and helps contribute to creating a sense of community in the up-and-coming neighbourhood.
“Fort Street is on fire right now, we’re seeing new businesses spring up all the time, we’re seeing new tech companies renovating buildings on the street which feeds the new businesses,” Helps said.
“So Fort Street is a microcosm of the kind of economic ecosystem that we’re trying to build in Victoria where all of the business and community that’s happening builds more business and builds more community.”