With torn down ceilings and rubble scattered everywhere, stepping inside the Gold Rush buildings near the Johnson Street Bridge is like stepping into a haunted house.
For the first time ever, members of the media took a look inside the buildings on Monday —just days before a new redevelopment proposal goes to a public hearing.
The buildings, also known as the Northern Junk warehouses, have been left vacant for 43 years, but that could soon change as property management group Reliance Properties has proposed a new redevelopment plan — one that’s been fine-tuned after more than a decade of opposition from heritage preservationists.
“I think we’re at the end of the road here with these buildings. We don’t really see a future for them if it’s not this. After being vacant for 43 years, you kind of have to ask yourself if you keep saying ‘no,’ what are you voting for? There’s no other viable to tangible plan for these buildings right now other than what we’re proposing,” said Jon Stovell, the president of the company.
He said its been a frustrating and long process, noting the sensitive nature of the project and what the buildings mean to the community, but reiterated the time to redevelop is now.
The new plan includes a six-storey structure complete with 47 secured rental homes and 9,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space. A public access elevator to the waterfront and an extension of David Foster Way are also included in the plans along with retention and stabilization of the original facades, interior, and structural walls.
For historian Nick Russell, the plan falls short.
“Development is perfectly feasible. Sympathetic development. Perhaps something that would tie in with the harbour, but the present plans are really just to maximize the square footage to make the most money rather than to try and make the most of the opportunity,” he said.
Constructed in the 1860s during the Gold Rush era, Russell said the buildings represent an important milestone in the history of Canada.
“Future generations are really going to regret if they approve the present plans,” he said.
Reliance Properties said while they understand the historical significance, there is no use in waiting any longer to redevelop the space.
“This one I think it’s just a particularity unique site. It’s close to the water. The buildings are very small. And to some, they’re very precious. At the same time, it’s a great site with an opportunity to solve a lot of problems and create a waterfront walkway extension,” Stovell said.
CHEK News reached out to Victoria mayor Lisa Helps for comment, who said she didn’t want to speak on the matter before Thursday’s public hearing.
The public will have a chance to weigh in virtually this Thursday. Anyone interest can head to the city’s website to sign up.