Proposed Arts & Innovation District aims to bring more arts and marine industry to Victoria’s downtown

Proposed Arts & Innovation District aims to bring more arts and marine industry to Victoria's downtown

An ambitious new development aimed at bringing more arts, culture and marine industry to Victoria’s downtown takes its first step to reality this month.

Reliance Properties will be presenting its master plan and rezoning application for the new Arts & Innovation District on April 18.

The redevelopment covers two city blocks and 400 feet of waterfront on the Upper Harbour, around the iconic Capital Iron building.

“What we are planning to do is bring a mix of artist studio, residential, retail commercial, marine industrial and culture,” Jon Stovell, Reliance Properties president, said.

The plan includes preserving three heritage buildings along Store Street, including Capital Iron, Valhalla Pure and a small brick building, as well as the construction of about 12 buildings that will be a mix of industrial, commercial and residential hubs.

The approximate 900-square-foot plan, designed by architect Franc D’Ambrosio, will take over the existing ­Capital Iron parking lot, the waterfront behind the heritage buildings and replace current retail stores along Government St.

It includes public access to the waterfront, retail spaces, art studios and industrial buildings. Both rental apartments and owned condominiums are also expected to be built.

“I think it’s an area of the city that is underutilized and underdeveloped and there’s all sorts of needs from housing people, to providing space for industry and technology,” Stovell said.

One of the key fixtures of the project is a new building for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, moving it from the Rockland neighbourhood into the downtown core.

Nancy Noble, the gallery’s director and CEO, said this would make the gallery more accessible to people, which is something it is working towards.

“And the tourist attraction for us is huge. If we are at one end of the harbour and the Royal BC Museum is at the other, it’s a great kind of bookend for people to come and really learn about Victoria,” Noble said.

She added the new building would be much bigger, providing more space for its collection.

“We have over 23,ooo art objects, which is the largest publicly held collection in the province, and much of it is in storage,” Noble explained. “We don’t have enough space to display them.”

Outside the new art gallery building would be a public plaza that could be used for special events, including the gallery’s annual Moss Street Paint-in held every July, according to Noble.

Another part of the project’s plan is bringing marine industry back to the waterfront with spaces for commercial marine industry and ocean research.

Finest at Sea Ocean Products, currently based in James Bay, is looking to relocate to the district.

Owner Bob Fraumeni told CHEK News he has eight boats catching seafood along Vancouver Island’s west coast and around Haida Gwaii.

He said if his company could move to the harbourfront, he could build docks for his boats to tie up and do repairs, making it a working harbour.

“Having my boats unloading, the fish being processed and cooked, served and people circulating though,” Fraumeni said. “It is a very central area and wonderful and vibrant, having the water connected to it.”

The approximately $600 million project is expected to be built in a phases, with the first phase including rental apartments, office and retail space and the art gallery.

Stovell said when the project is fully built there will be upwards of 1,800 jobs.

Reliance Properties has previously done work in the Greater Victoria region working on projects like the Janion, Northern Junk properties and the Beachlands development in Colwood.

Mackenzie ReadMackenzie Read

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