The former Times Colonist building has been renovated to open in the summer

The developer behind the re-imagining of what used to be a Times Colonist building says the city’s approval of contrasts that allow for a brewery, distillery, pub and co-op kitchen will inject new life into the site.

David Fullbrook, CEO of Merchant House Capital, said he has now formalized a series of uses for the project that will generate some excitement around the $26.6 million Victoria Press Building project.

“We always imagined this was going to have some food and some excitement,” said Fullbrook, after Thursday night’s public hearing that gave him the green light.

With the zoning settled now, Fullbrook said, striking a deal to bring in a brewer, distiller, and publican would be much easier.

He was particularly excited about the prospect of Vancouver-based Coho Commissary creating a 20,000-square-foot commercial kitchen on the premises. This company rents out kitchen space for businesses that are starting and expanding as well as providing expertise and guidance.

“This will bring extraordinary life to the building and the area as well, while bringing entrepreneurship to the restaurant industry in Victoria,” said Fullbrook.

Thursday’s public hearing revealed no opposition to the project’s request to allow fermentation and distillation, or even to reduce the number of parking lots to 122 of the 214 kiosks located on the site. The council voted unanimously.

However, con. Stephen Andrew said he was “reluctantly supportive” and asked, before voting to continue the project, if more could be done to accommodate those with accessibility issues.

Andrew suggested that because the developer had requested a reduction in the number of parking spaces required, it was fair for the board to ask the developer to consider accessibility in the building’s design.

“I think there is a complete lack of sensitivity to accessibility, a complete lack of understanding of accessibility,” he said. “Although it is a building that was built in the 1970s, it is a renovation and renovation by the applicant in 2022, as the world changed.”

Mayor Lisa Helps suggested asking the developer for things not covered by the policy at the last minute at a public hearing is mismanagement and conflicts with transparency.

Fullbrook agreed, noting that projects in Victoria are already going through an arduous and expensive process, and processing applications at the final stage of the process undermines the work of city employees working with developers to negotiate terms for new projects.

“We show up at the city council and council members, at the very last minute, looking forward to reaping more benefits from the development, which makes the development process very challenging,” he said. “We can’t just focus in a public hearing. We can’t pivot and make a fundamental change in design that has financial implications because a particular board member has a particular passion.”

Fullbrook said the project has greatly improved accessibility, with many stairs removed, many ramps added, and automated electronic doors.

The project received enthusiastic support from the mayor.

“I believe this building and the community that will be created within it continue to bring Victoria 3.0 to life,” said Helps. “It is a vision of the next 20 years of a future-looking city economy that creates opportunities for low-carbon prosperity that creates an opportunity for the community to come together, and that creates high-quality, high-value jobs in this part of town.”

Universe. Jeremy Loveday said it is an exciting and welcome investment in this area. “I am impressed by the vision of transforming a building from one use to another, in a thoughtful and innovative way, while preserving the heritage,” he said.

Fullbrook said construction will finish this summer and tenant tenure will occur simultaneously. He said the building is 75 per cent rented. Tenant improvements are expected to vary, but many will open their doors for business before the end of the year.

Merchant House Capital purchased the 130,000-square-foot building, at 2621 Douglas Street in 2017. Construction of the original building was completed in 1972.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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