James Bay residents are cautiously optimistic about a mega project that will transform the gateway of their neighbourhood.
The South Block development, a joint venture between Jawl Properties and Concert Properties, will transform 2.3 hectares of parking lots, government office buildings and heritage homes near the B.C. legislature into mixed residential, retail and office space.
“People forget, James Bay is as big as Sidney,” said Marg Gardiner, president of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association. “We’re more densely populated than any neighbourhood in Victoria, yet we don’t have that much in the way of amenities. That’s what many residents want and we hope it’s what we’ll get. We’ll be participating with great interest.”
A survey conducted by the neighbourhood association in December shows locals are largely supportive of South Block, while retail opportunities like a hardware store and a restaurant or pub with outdoor seating were suggested as appealing tenants.
Jawl and Concert finalized the land purchase from the B.C. government on March 21, while developers stopped by the James Bay Neighbourhood Association April 9 to address resident concerns.
“Given the site’s profile and prominence in the James Bay community, I know there was a fair bit of curiosity around, even at the conceptual level, where the design was heading,” said developer Robert Jawl.
The province has committed to leasing about 180,000 square feet of office space on a 20-year term beginning in 2017.
Jawl said design and engineering teams are now in place to assist with conceptual and detailed work for the building and landscape design.
One of those contractors, Vancouver-based PWL Partnership, has designed projects from Deer Lake Park in Burnaby to CBC Plaza in downtown Vancouver, with a focus on public space and environmentally progressive landscaping.
“We’re very pleased to have them as part of our team,” Jawl said.
Gardiner said residents are watching the design closely, but most are glad to see the collaborative approach as construction ramps up to a 2015 start date.
“It needs to feel like public space, even though it won’t be,” Gardiner said. “We’re all very interested to see how this develops.”
The first phase of office construction is slated for completion in 2017, while five heritage buildings need to be relocated from the site. Three homes will be moved to front Michigan Street, and sites within James Bay are being evaluated for the remaining two homes.
Jawl said developers are now in discussion with City of Victoria staff on the rezoning and development application, but that the project won’t be coming to council for at least several months.
The Queen’s Printer building at the corner of Superior and Government will be unaffected by the project.