Union of past and present in Vic­to­ria

Con­dos and lofts within B.C. cap­i­tal’s his­toric Chi­na­town

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties - SUZANNE MOR­PHET

After many years and nu­mer­ous pro­pos­als, a new res­i­den­tial­com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment is fi­nally ready to emerge in Vic­to­ria’s his­toric Chi­na­town.

You could al­most say it’s like the myth­i­cal phoenix ris­ing from its own ashes, as Union — a de­vel­op­ment by Van­cou­ver-based An­them Prop­er­ties — re­places build­ings that once oc­cu­pied the en­tire block, in­clud­ing the old Fin­layson build­ing that was largely de­stroyed by fire in 2005.

Vic­to­ria’s Chi­na­town is the old­est sur­viv­ing and con­tin­u­ously used Chi­na­town in Canada. It’s part of the city’s Old Town and a na­tional his­toric site. Any de­vel­op­ment in this part of the city must re­spect the Stan­dards and Guide­lines for the Con­ser­va­tion of His­toric Places in Canada, which the city adopted the same year as fire razed the Fin­layson build­ing.

Hap­pily for her­itage­minded city of­fi­cials — and ev­ery­one else who en­joys his­tory — the brick fa­cade of the Fin­layson build­ing sur­vived the fire.

It’s now propped up with steel col­umns, but will be in­cor­po­rated into the front of one of the two build­ings that com­prise Union, even con­tribut­ing to its name since the new de­vel­op­ment seeks to unite the old with the new, ac­cord­ing to Robert Marc­hand, di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing for An­them Prop­er­ties.

“(The) old is the Fin­layson build­ing and the 1881 brick,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of brick on site ac­tu­ally that, as that build­ing burned down, the her­itage com­mis­sion for those old build­ings re­tained that brick, so we’re tak­ing that brick and we’ll be us­ing it through our cen­tre block con­nec­tor, which is The­atre Al­ley.”

The orig­i­nal The­atre Al­ley was a nar­row pas­sage­way be­tween build­ings that opened up in the cen­tre and was an area where peo­ple would gather — and still are — char­ac­ter­is­tic of Chi­na­town.

Marc­hand says de­vel­op­ers aren’t able to du­pli­cate the old the­atre al­ley ex­actly, but there will be one some­thing like it run­ning be­tween Union’s two five-storey build­ings, with an open­ing at the back of the build­ing fronting onto Pan­dora Av­enue.

“The­atre Al­ley will once again con­nect Pan­dora and Fis­gard, as well as be­ing the ac­cess point to the res­i­den­tial lob­bies,” says Marc­hand. “The al­ley will be a unique space — in­cor­po­rat­ing a bistro pa­tio and an open-air space — while main­tain­ing the orig­i­nal charm and char­ac­ter.”

Marc­hand says the new build­ings will re­flect the feel of the old Fin­layson build­ing in their colours, tex­tures and ma­te­ri­als.

In ad­di­tion to the old brick, for in­stance, the com­pany will use new brick that’s been put through a me­chan­i­cal tum­bler to give it an aged look, much the same as blue jeans are stressed to make them look worn.

How­ever, passersby won’t mis­take the new Union build­ings as a Dis­neyesque ver­sion of some­thing from the past.

This fits with the city’s de­sign guide­lines for Old Town that state: “Our city is evolv­ing, it is not a mu­seum ob­ject, and we have a duty in the de­sign of new build­ings, ad­di­tions to non-her­itage build­ings, and new ur­ban spa­ces to re­spond to chang­ing ways of work­ing, liv­ing and play­ing.”

MVisit our web­site un­der the head­ing, ‘Rec Prop­er­ties,’ for more sto­ries and photo gal­leries.

The city’s se­nior her­itage plan­ner, Steve Bar­ber, is pleased with An­them’s re­sponse to the city’s guide­lines.

“I think that their ar­chi­tect, Paul Mer­rick, did a very skil­ful job of coming up a build­ing that is new contemporary de­sign, that at the same time, in the ex­pres­sion of the fa­cade and the use of ma­te­ri­als, was able to re­flect that very sen­si­tive his­tor­i­cal con­text.” In fact, An­them hired two ar­chi­tects. As well as Mer­rick, who spe­cial­izes “in the big pic­ture and how to in­te­grate large pieces of the puz­zle,” fel­low ar­chi­tect Robert Cic­cozzi’s of­fice is de­tai­lo­ri­ented, says Marc­hand.

“We were re­ally brain­storm­ing out the best fit, the best op­tion for the prod­uct, but still mak­ing it what An­them’s slo­gan is, which is ‘cre­at­ing real es­tate that works;’ works for the buyer, works for the seller, works for the com­mu­nity.”

Marc­hand cred­its Cic­cozzi and team for be­ing able to tweak small de­tails in the units — they range from 491 square feet to 1,203 square feet — that make a huge dif­fer­ence. For in­stance, in the ju­nior one-bed­room suites — ju­nior means they don’t have a closet — the hall closet di­rectly across from the bed­room has swing­ing doors in­stead of slid­ing doors.

“So when you get up in the morn­ing and you’re in your nightwear and you want to go from there to the bath­room, you can just open your closet door and now you’ve got this pri­vate en­suite kind of feel for a one-bed­room suite,” he says. The in­te­ri­ors are func­tional in other ways, too. “You walk in and you’ve got a great new contemporary feel; sleek kitchens, durable com­pos­ite stone coun­ter­tops, square cut un­der­mount sinks, over­sized clos­ets — re­ally cool kind of union of two dif­fer­ent styles.”

The blend of old and new, her­itage and contemporary, is at­tract­ing buy­ers. Com­ple­tion is slated for the spring of 2013, but sales started this past Canada Day, and Marc­hand says they’re on tar­get, with 20 to 30 sales in the works. Both the size of the units and the price — from $239,900 to $425,900 — were de­signed to ap­peal to the lo­cal Vic­to­ria mar­ket, so the com­pany was sur­prised when in­vestors from out­side the Cap­i­tal Re­gion showed in­ter­est. Marc­hand says this is likely due, in part, to Vic­to­ria’s low rental va­cancy rate.

“It’s made us look at, you know, the Van­cou­ver mar­ket and a few other out­ly­ing ar­eas and say, ‘Hey, you know, if you’re look­ing for a great prop­erty and you are look­ing to rent, you should be look­ing in Vic­to­ria’ and we feel Union has the best value.”

One of the rea­sons An­them has been able to of­fer suites for as lit­tle as $239,000 is be­cause only one level of park­ing is un­der­ground.

“A lot of the con­struc­tion cost in a build­ing is in the un­der­ground parkade,” says Marc­hand. “The deeper you go, the more ex­pen­sive it gets.” A sec­ond level of park­ing will be above ground, but hid­den by a land­scaped court­yard be­tween the two build­ings. Res­i­dents will be able to stroll among green­ery or sit on a bench and read a book.

Robert Ran­dall, past chair of Vic­to­ria’s Down­town Res­i­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion, says there was some con­cern that the five-storey build­ings would be too high since sur­round­ing build­ings are only three or four storeys. But Marc­hand says An­them re­quested — and re­ceived — a vari­ance of 2.3 me­tres in height to make the project vi­able, adding that the build­ings sit back a bit from the street and won’t cre­ate big shad­ows.

Photos courtesy, An­them Prop­er­ties

An artist’s ren­der­ing of the Union project, which is to rise on the site of a build­ing in Vic­to­ria de­stroyed by fire.

The unique de­vel­op­ment will have views of the his­toric Chi­na­town area.

Photos courtesy, An­them Prop­er­ties

A court­yard within the Union de­vel­op­ment as seen in this artist’s illustration.

Above, the din­ing area in one of the units as seen in this artist’s ren­der­ing. Left, the site of the project in Chi­na­town.

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