League Asset Corp.'s Adam Gant and Emanuel Arruda stand near the demolition at Colwood Corners

League Asset Corp.'s Adam Gant and Emanuel Arruda stand near the demolition at Colwood Corners

Overhaul begins at Colwood Corners

What could be the largest property development on Vancouver Island broke ground Monday at Colwood Corners.

To the crackle and rumble of demolition machinery, what could be the largest property development on Vancouver Island broke ground Monday at Colwood Corners.

The ambitious $1 billion project aims to transform the aging Colwood strip mall into the city’s gleaming downtown core, with highrise towers amid low-rise residential buildings and retail shops.

With a build-out of 20 years, the “Capital City Centre” has the potential to draw 4,000 people to Colwood’s core, living in 2,220 condominiums and townhomes.

“This is a historic day for, League, and for the citizens and businesses of Colwood,” said Emanuel Arruda, co-founder of League Asset Corp., the company driving the project. “The $1 billion Colwood Capital City Centre is the largest live-work community on the Island.”

“All told, Capital City Centre is the largest project of its kind in Canada,” added Adam Gant, the other founding partner with League.

During phase 1 and over the next five years, the southern third of the 14-acre site is planned for a four floors of residential atop 35,000 square feet of space for London Drugs, a five-storey office building, three retail buildings and a public plaza for outdoor events and farmers’ markets.

Once completed, the next building would be a 26-storey residential tower, the tallest building planned for the Island. More retail space would round out the completion of phase 1, worth $250 million. Parking is planned underground.

“It will be an urban village,” Arruda told gathered dignitaries at a sunny but cold morning ceremony. “We want to attract employers, but we also want residents and visitors to engage outdoors, to be connected with each other and to take part in the community.”

League came into the project in February 2007 when a similar grand vision was first proposed to Colwood council by Turner Lane Developments. The land was rezoned in 2009, and League took over rolling out the project in 2010.

Ultimately, the build-out envisions 12 residential and office towers and scores of retail units, for a total of 3.8 million square feet of space, spanning the property between Belmont Road and Colwood Crescent.

Gant said the project will adapt to market conditions, and will be built in discrete phases. So far the project is looking good, he said — the company met its goal to pre-sell 45 of the 76 units in the first condominium building.

“Capital City Centre is a long-term project … but the strategy is to develop it in distinct components, to minimize market risks, to ride out economic cycles,” Gant said. “The goal is to have consistent building all the time, with overlap. As one finishes another starts.”

League Assets itself will become the anchor tenant in the first office building, and it is donating 1,500 square feet to Royal Roads University as part of a partnership agreement. Residential units at Capital City Centre meshes with the university’s plan to attract 1,000 foreign students per year.

“The space League has offered Royal Roads will allow us to continue working in the community and collaborating with the community,” said Allan Cahoon, president of RRU. “This is a great opportunity to build partnerships.”

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said the project has the potential to revitalize the commercial corridor along Sooke Road.

But her optimism is tempered with the sting of large failed projects in Colwood, such as Silkwind and Aquattro.

“I felt we stuck our necks out there to endorse projects that were a little controversial … and did not come to fruition,” Hamilton said. “I have a lot more faith in this one. (League) has put significant amount of time and money into here, and I see more likelihood of follow through.”

Gant said with $1 billion in assets, League has the financial clout to see the project through. Building retail first is also part of the strategy to draw people to the property.

“There is a large company behind this. There is a much bigger force behind this project,” Gant said.

The planned highrises would eclipse anything seen in the region and Colwood’s mayor said the city is ready for them, as long as they don’t impose over existing neighbourhoods. Most of the houses and property around Colwood Plaza are owned by League.

“Highrises have to be strategically located,” Hamilton said. “On this site, they won’t change much, there’s not a lot around it. They won’t irritate peoples’ viewscapes.”

The project will bring millions in amenity contributions to Colwood, depending on building height and density.

For the first phase, League will donate about $2.5 million toward a second Colwood fire hall, planned for land between Belmont Road and Ocean Boulevard.

“Due to the nature of the project, it’s vital to have a second fire station,” Logan said. “A second fire hall will allow us to improve service levels.”