UVic-owned Broad Street buildings to be converted into hotel

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Students, members of the public say the property should be used for housing

broad street
Photo by Sie Douglas-Fish.

UVic is building a hotel. A Broad Street property owned by UVic Properties, a subsidiary of the university that manages real estate to support it financially, is slated to become a hotel following approval from City Council on Sept 23.

The plan involves building a six-story, 135-room hotel with retail, restaurant, and historic elements in the 1300-block of Broad Street. The hotel will preserve the facade of the 1892 Duck’s Building, which initially housed a carriage factory owned by building namesake Simeon Duck, and will include seismic upgrades to the building’s frame. They were donated to UVic in 2000 by Michael Williams. 

Proponents say converting the buildings, which include the historic Duck’s Building, will help support UVic financially, revitalize the downtown core, and support Victoria’s tourism industry. Some students and other members of the public say the building should be used to provide more housing in Victoria’s tight rental market.

UVic says key stakeholders approve of hotel plans

President and CEO of UVic Properties, Peter Kuran, said at the Sept. 23 council meeting that the project has been approved by friends of building donor Williams, as well as the UVic properties board, Board of Governors, and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training. UVic and the developer have also consulted with the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations.

“There is interest by the First Nations partnering in the hotel in a real way that could include things like storytelling by way of artifacts display and art, employment opportunities, up to even equity participation in the hotel,” said Kuran.

The hotel plan also includes a resettlement package for the local businesses and tenants of the building’s eight residential suites. The residential relocation package includes a minimum of four months’ rent. UVic Properties will also be contributing $80 000 to the city’s housing fund. 

But it’s unclear how UVic’s students feel about the project — some have taken to social media to voice their opposition. UVic Tent Life (@tentlife2021), an Instagram account that has posted about students’ difficulties finding housing this fall, posted about the buildings.

“This building is owned by UVic. It was a legacy gift from Michael Williams. They are now trying to leverage this ‘gift’ into a hotel that the city does not need,” says the post. “It will evict low income housing units, small local [businesses], and do nothing for the inadequate student housing situation (which was part of their original plan!).”

The Instagram account owners did not respond to a request for comment. 

Despite the social media outcry, most of the submissions to council — including those opposed — did not appear to be from students. However, one submission from a student perspective linked the Duck’s building proposal to the student housing crisis. 

“Please have the university build more student housing with their ‘free gift’ [instead of] this development,” wrote one submission to council, signed “Just another homeless student.” 

Student housing is not for the Duck’s

Karen Johnston, UVic’s associate director of public affairs, noted that a 2017 proposal for the buildings included housing with preferential access for students. The proposal was rejected by the heritage advisory panel and because it would have involved the sale of the donated land.

Johnston also highlighted the university’s ongoing work on student housing, including the housing and dining complex currently being built.

“The university continues to work with student governments, municipalities, and others on the complex, regional issue of affordable and accessible housing,” she said.

In 2019, the UVic Graduate Students’ Society (GSS) was up in arms about the abandonment of the Broad Street housing project. GSS Chair David Foster says the society has turned its eyes to future projects now.

“While the GSS had previously hoped for a market rental development with preference for graduate students, I don’t know enough about the specific characteristics of these buildings to comment on the feasibility of this,” said Foster. “The GSS continues to advocate for dedicated graduate student housing at UVic.” 

Plans granted council approval

At their Sept. 23 meeting, Victoria City Council heard comments from the public on the rezoning application needed for the hotel construction to take place. Between written submissions received in the past two-plus years and video and phone submissions heard during the meeting, council received over 100 submissions from members of the public. 50 were in favour of the application and 56 were against.

Many of the submissions in favour emphasized benefits to Victoria’s tourism industry and downtown core. 

“This development represents all that we’ve spoken to in [terms] of the type of visitor economy we want in this community: efficient, driving high-value customers, aligned with priorities such as active transportation,” said Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, at the council meeting.

Some proponents also argued that increasing hotel capacity will lessen demand for short-term rentals like AirBnB, which decreases the supply of long-term rentals. Opponents mostly cited a need for more housing and a desire to preserve the heritage value of the buildings.

Following the public hearing, City Council voted to approve the three motions needed for the hotel project to proceed. With only Councillor Ben Isitt opposed, saying the project should be built on land that does not have heritage buildings on it, all motions passed.*

“Some of the concerns I had coming into this [were] the residential units lost, challenging particularly as some of our correspondents had covered, in terms of student housing and the university,” said Councillor Sarah Potts. However, she said in the meeting, support for the building’s tenants and the contribution to the city’s housing fund assuaged some of her concerns.

“In some ways, [this is] a development that represents some change that will be challenging to some friends, but it is really important to see this level of investment in our downtown at this time, so I’m very happy to support this,” said Potts.

*Councillor Sharmarke Dubow recused himself from voting on this issue as he is a UVic student and wished to avoid any perceived conflict.