By this spring, 10 youth and 29 young families were planning to move into a transformed Traveller’s Inn at 120 Gorge Rd.
The city-owned motel, purchased with much fanfare in July 2010, now stagnates as funding sources are sought for a renovation job with a price tag 10 times the original estimate.
Until an enquiry by the News prompted action, grass and weeds had been left to grow knee-high in the courtyard, while leaf and other debris collected in the parking lot. The yard neglect left neighbours frustrated.
“It looks abandoned which could lead to vagrancy and other problems,” said Tom Sims last week, who lives nearby on Belfour Avenue.
Bruce Parisian, executive director of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, also noted the lot’s poor upkeep.
“Luckily nobody’s actually broken into the building,” he said. “We’re really concerned about our relationship with the immediate neighbours.”
The city has appointed the friendship centre to plan the old motel’s redevelopment, and eventually, to operate the social housing facility.
In July 2010, the city purchased two bankrupt hotels, at 120 Gorge and 710 Queens Ave., for $5.25 million. In September, the federal and provincial governments contributed $3.75 million toward the purchase. At that time, the city estimated building renovations at $400,000.
“That was an estimate based on no information at all,” said Parisian, adding the real cost is likely closer to $4 million.
The friendship centre now manages a wait list of about 60 people.
“Most of the community was given to believe we’d have this facility ready this spring, but of course, it’s taken a lot longer to get to this stage,” Parisian said.
So far, only one quarter of the needed renovation funds have been secured, but Parisian still hopes to begin construction soon. His goal is now to open the facility, dubbed Respected House, by December.
But first, he needs approval from Victoria city council to proceed. And he needs to deal with a serious bed bug infestation.
“Even for us to go and work in the building or do site visits, you’re taking your chances bringing some little friends home,” Parisian said, chuckling.
Mayor Dean Fortin would not comment on the project timeline, or the $4 million estimate.
“I don’t know what Bruce is bringing forward,” said Fortin. “We haven’t seen any formal application.”
Funding negotiations are ongoing with B.C. Housing and the federal government.
For now, the city’s focus is on the other hotel it purchased in July.
“To respond to the need on the street for the hardest-to-house, we’ve been concentrating our efforts on getting 710 Queens up and running and operational,” said Fortin.
In response to complaints about the grounds in the vacated Gorge hotel, city parks crews went to work last Friday.
“We’ll make it part of our regular parks patrol,” Fortin pledged.