University’s decision comes at a tight time in the rental market, as the vacancy rate dipped to 1.2 per cent last fall
The University of Victoria’s 2017 decision to build a downtown condominium and graduate student housing complex on Broad Street has been reversed, and the three-storey property will be converted to a hotel that will house retail and office space instead.
The university first announced the construction of 108 units of condominiums on the Broad Street property in September 2017, with the promise of 59 units of market rental housing that would give preference to graduate students.
This student housing project would have addressed the tight rental market in Victoria, which is a challenge for many students looking for affordable housing. As of October 2018, the vacancy rate in Victoria was 1.2 per cent.
“This is a disappointing decision, given the fact that housing is a problem for students,” said Mehdi Hashemi, Chair of the UVic Graduate Students Society (GSS). “We want to see the university spending more resources on housing, not taking away the resources that have been promised.”
The GSS was not consulted or informed about this decision by the university, according to Hashemi.
In a 2018 survey conducted by the GSS, housing was the third biggest obstacle to academic progress for graduate students at UVic. When Hashemi came to Victoria in 2012, he said that rent for a one-bedroom apartment was about $700 — a price now typical for renting a single room in a shared apartment.
Construction on the original project was initially planned to begin in 2019, with the project’s completion anticipated by 2021. The final three-building structure, with two new buildings on either side of the newly-renovated original building, was expected to be seven storeys high, and span the 1300-block of Broad Street between Yates and Johnson Street.
However, UVic has now decided to create a retail and office space, in addition to the first purpose-built hotel in downtown since the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour was completed in 2004. According to Peter Kuran, President and C.E.O of UVic Properties, this change in direction came from community feedback during the project’s rezoning.
“We really found that from a feasibility perspective, it was better to go another direction,” said Kuran. “We heard a lot of comments, and so we said ‘I think it’s time we have to look at something different, because this will never be a project that will be accepted to [Victoria City] Council.”
These concerns included the height of the building, which would be increased under the original plan, and feasibility of students living there long term. In the new project, the building will only be one floor higher than the current structure, an additional 28 parking spots will be included, and the floor space ratio will be lowered from the previous plan by 1.1 units.
The new proposal will take approximately 18 months for rezoning, and is anticipated to start construction two years from now. According to Kuran, he has already received positive feedback about the new proposal from local businesses.
“Students won’t be impacted by the change,” said Kuran. “There was no student housing on this site, and the market rental opportunity that we were looking at was market rental housing [with preference given to students], so it wasn’t [like campus housing] that tends to be more affordable.”
The 135-room hotel will have a 99 year lease, similar to the long term land leases offered at properties owned by UBC and SFU. All net proceeds made by UVic Properties goes back to the university, to support students and student services.
“The current proposal with Chard Development allows UVic to retain ownership of the entire site under a long-term land lease, ensuring that the property continues to financially support the university and its academic mission as intended by Michael Williams,” said a spokesperson for UVic Properties.
UVic Properties also cited a project currently underway at UVic to construct a new on-campus student residence building to accommodate about 600 students currently living off-campus. This project is currently in the design stage, and construction is expected to begin in 2020.
A new proposal is expected to be submitted by UVic Properties to the City of Victoria, following a public consultation with stakeholders.
The property is currently occupied by the three-storey Ducks Building, built in 1892. The building was gifted to UVic in 2001 by the late Michael Williams, along with several other downtown properties.
According to Citified, a construction and real-estate website, Williams donated this property with the hope that it would enable UVic with “‘ongoing financial returns to support academic programming, student services and supports’ through [Williams’] real-estate assets.”
The Ducks Building is currently managed by UVic Properties, a for-profit affiliate of the university that also oversees Vancouver Island Technology Park, Swans Hotel and Brew Pub, and Marine Technology Centre.
“I think this decision is going to have an impact on graduate students because it was something that was supposed to be dedicated for housing for students, and is now being taken away,” said Hashemi.
This article was updated at 11:15 a.m. on May 29 to include comments and new information from UVic Properties.