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Reliance pitches mixed-use development at Capital Iron Lands

Former industrial property to become major Arts & Innovation District in City of Victoria

A conceptual image showing the planned development by Reliance Properties at Victoria's Capital Iron Lands. (Courtesy DAUStudio/Reliance)
A conceptual image showing the planned development by Reliance Properties at Victoria's Capital Iron Lands. (Courtesy DAUStudio/Reliance)

Victoria’s city council will soon review Reliance Properties’ application for Capital Iron Lands, a largely undeveloped 6.7-acre site along a long-dormant harbour that would be a key component for the British Columbia capital’s planned Arts & Innovation District.

Reliance chief executive officer Jon Stovell told RENX his privately owned Vancouver-based company acquired the land four years ago for more than $40 million from the Greene family, which had founded Capital Iron. 

“What really got us interested was the City of Victoria creating Victoria 3.0, a future vision for Victoria,” Stovell said. “And within it, they they identified an area of the city where our site is kind of the epicentre called the Arts & Innovation District. 

“The idea is that you take a whole constellation of diverse uses, from heavy industrial to residential and cultural institutions. You put them together and create synergies and adjacencies between uses, which creates vitality, creativity and hopefully innovation.

“We really have designed our master plan for these seven acres to respond to the DNA of that plan.”

Stovell estimates the entire Arts & Innovation District to be about 50 acres on the north edge of downtown.

Capital Iron Lands site and plans

Reliance’s Capital Iron Lands are at the southern entrance to the area, via which the majority of the people in the city would arrive. The site runs from the foreshore of the Upper Harbour east to Government Street and includes three heritage commercial buildings totalling 93,000 square feet plus parking lots.

Reliance’s vision involves incorporating the three heritage buildings while transforming the site into a mixed-use community with homes, live-work artist studios, heavy and light industrial uses, institutions, and public outdoor and cultural amenities, including an extension of the waterfront walkway and a new public plaza adjacent to a proposed new Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which would move from its current location at 1040 Moss St.

The site currently employs about 60 people, according to Stovell, but Reliance has worked with a land economist on its proposal and is forecasting its project would support more than 2,100 jobs. This includes:

  • 308 full-time-equivalent jobs in roughly 159,600 square feet of on-site retail space;
  • 146 jobs associated with roughly 137,100 square feet of light industrial space;
  • 1,568 jobs from 235,200 square feet of office space;
  • and 60 employees at the art gallery, plus artists and performers.

“It's a massive increase in employment, economic activity, taxation and revenue for the city,” Stovell said.

Existing and future businesses

The former Capital Iron business on the site went into receivership, but will reopen under new ownership and the same name to sell a similar mix of indoor and outdoor furniture, barbecues, hot tubs and other related items in one of the heritage buildings. 

The Valhalla Pure Outfitters outdoor gear and clothing store and law offices for Miller Titerle + Company will continue to operate in one heritage building while a pottery company will remain in the other.

“We don't plan to significantly alter them or intervene in them at all,” Stovell said. “They're currently well-rented and doing quite well in this condition.” 

Local company Finest at Sea Ocean Products wants to help revitalize the local fishing industry by relocating to the Upper Harbour along about three-quarters of Capital Iron Lands’ 400 feet of water frontage. 

The company has engaged support from, and is looking to collaborate with, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. It’s waiting for approval from Transport Canada before taking its next steps.

“They're not fully clear yet on what they're going to be physically building out there,” Stovell noted. 

Development will happen in phases

Reliance’s proposed first development phase would include a light industrial office building, the art gallery and an artist live-work rental building with approximately 200 units. The company has previously developed similar live-work studios in Vancouver.

“It will be up to the gallery to raise the capital to build their section, but we'll be executing it together at the same time,” Stovell said. 

Subsequent residential phases are to include condominiums of various heights and Stovell estimates the total residential component for the site will be close to 600 units.

The first rezoning submission for Capital Iron Lands was supposed to go to council on April 18, but Stovell said that has now been moved to May 2 or 9. Council will then recommend advancing, revising or rejecting the application. 

If approved, the project would go through public hearings before moving on to the acquisition of development permits for the first phase. Stovell estimates the first construction could begin in about two years and the initial phase should take approximately three years to build.

The first phase will only displace parking spaces and won’t disrupt any of the businesses operating on the site.

Reliance’s other Victoria properties

Reliance’s existing Victoria portfolio includes the Board of Trade building at 31 Bastion Square, the Fairfield Block at 1601 Douglas St., the Northern Junk buildings at 1314 Wharf St. and the Janion building at 456 Pandora Ave.

Reliance doesn’t own any other property in the Arts & Innovation District, and the Capital Iron Lands are further along in the planning and rezoning process than the rest of it.

Stovell said the City of Victoria is working on a study which should provide further direction and a regulatory framework that could result in blanket zoning for the entire district.

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