Heritage restoration of Wharf Street landmark may yield boutique hotel for post-COVID Victoria
MIKE KOZAKOWSKI, CITIFIED.CA
Published June 8, 2020
A Vancouver-based developer has applied to the City of Victoria for a zoning change that would permit hotel usage at a downtown Victoria heritage property.
The Salient Group is seeking a text amendment to the zoning for 1244 Wharf Street – a five-storey commercial structure most recently known for its Guild restaurant and bar and as the long-time home of Pacific Design Academy – prior to undertaking restorative work on the nearly 120-year-old landmark constructed in phases starting in the early 1880s.
“The original building, with its rubble masonry foundation, was erected in 1882. Following this, an additional storey was added in 1892, with a large addition to the side in 1896,” states a description in an informational package supplied to the City by Victoria-based Cascadia Architects. “The random rubble stonework, brick masonry and load bearing masonry details, windows, decorative detailing, and iron shutters and doors, constitute significant character defining elements of the building. This building is compositionally significant to Old Town’s layered, small scale historic fabric sloping upward from the water.”
With more than half of 1244 Wharf Street sitting empty due to low demand for its commercial spaces, Salient Group’s application would allow the company to utilize the building predominantly as a boutique hotel in a level below the Yates Street frontage (in one of two below-street levels on the harbour side made possible by the steep slope along the building’s north face) and in levels above the ground floor. No additional storeys would be requested as part of the application.
A future hotelier, Cascadia’s report states, would operate the hotel as formal transient accommodation and not as short-term, AirBnB-style vacation rentals. The City banned vacation rentals in newly-built strata units and as full-suites within single-family-residences two years ago in an effort to clamp down on residences used for tourist lodging rather than as full-time housing.
Salient Group recently acquired 1244 Wharf Street from Vancouver-based Reliance Properties, the developer behind the heritage restoration and expansion of The Janion Hotel property at Store Street and Pandora Avenue, and a mixed-use rental housing and retail proposal immediately north of Salient’s building on Wharf Street at Johnson Street that will include the restoration of the Northern Junk buildings.
As part of recent land shuffles in downtown Victoria, last week Reliance Properties announced its acquisition of multiple parcels known as the Capital Iron lands along the northern fringes of Old Town. And in mid-2019 Reliance purchased a former government office property on Fairfield Road at Blanshard Street.
As for Salient Group’s local activities, the company recently completed the restoration and expansion of The Sawyer Block, a mixed-use affordable rental project in the 800-block of Fort Street that incorporated the restoration of the Sawyer Sewing Centre building. And across the street from that project, the developer plans to restore several heritage façades for the lower levels of a future 10-storey rental tower.
Due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria’s tourism industry is facing uncertain times. Multiple hotel proposals have reportedly been put on the back-burner, including plans for a sizable hotel development in Vic West, while several hotel properties have sold to the provincial government for use as homeless shelters.
Vancouver-based Chard Development, meanwhile, has a proposal before the City for a 137-room hotel along the 1300-block of Broad Street. It is unclear, however, if that proposal will continue in its current form due to challenges brought on by COVID-19.
In light of the uncertainty Victoria’s predominantly tourism-focused economy faces, the planned restoration of 1244 Wharf Street and its potential use as a hotel is regarded a sign of confidence in the Capital’s future as a popular tourism destination, and a continuation of decades-long efforts to protect Old Town's heritage assets. C
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