Fresh off of the restoration of the historic Victoria Press Building, Victoria-based developer Merchant House Capital has initiated the first steps in its next project, right next door.

Ahead of submitting a rezoning application, Merchant House has filed its pre-application with the City, proposing a 12-storey rental building with 160 units, which the developer says will add much needed rental housing to an area that multiple studies have identified as in need of it. "By all measures, this proposal represents implementation of planned growth in the right location," Merchant House Capital Found and CEO David Fullbrook wrote in a summary letter.

The proposed site of the project is 2615-2629 Douglas Street, between Topaz Park and Rock Bay in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood of Victoria. The restored and renovated Victoria Press Building sits on 2621 Douglas Street, at the intersection of Douglas Street and Kings Road, and this new development would be adjacent to the Victoria Press Building, at the intersection of Kings Road and Ross Lane.

Victoria Press Building Apartments - Merchant House Capital Site ContextSite context, with the Victoria Press Building and Victoria Press Apartments. (Merchant House Capital)

The developers add that the location of the apartment building -- referred to in application documents as the Victoria Press Apartments -- will be well-served by transit connections to Downtown Victoria and employment-intensive locations along the Douglas Street bus corridor.

Victoria Press Apartments - Merchant House Capital (2)Aerial view of the site. (Merchant House Capital)

This is one reason behind what is arguably the most unusual aspect of the project. The proposed building would replace an existing surface level parking lot, but includes little to no vehicle parking for residents. Aside from temporary street level parking, two levels of underground parking will be provided with the building, but the spaces are intended to support the mixed-use Victoria Press Building next door, not the residents.

Merchant House cites several reasons for this. The first is the subject site's aforementioned access to transit, pointing out that the building would have access to 20 transit routes via six bus stops within a three-minute walking radius, even before the upcoming Victoria RapidBus that will service Douglas Street.

Additionally, the site is also located on the City's All Ages and Abilities Cycling Network, the developers are considering the option of providing transit passes to tenants in order to support a "car-free lifestyle," and research the developers point to indicates that vehicle ownership among renters is 1.5 times lower compared to condominium owners. The developers also point to five other multi-family projects across Canada that included no off-street parking as precedent that it's a viable option.

Alluding to the concept of the "15-minute city," Merchant House says that "multi-modal transportation choices are achieved by the location of the residences, and augmented by ample bike end-of-trip facilities, car-share programs, on-site business and workspace, as well as social and cultural amenities."

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Victoria Press Building - Merchant House Capital (1)The Victoria Press Building. (Merchant House Capital / dHK Architects)

Merchant House says the apartment building is "the final step in realizing a comprehensive vision." That vision began with the renovation of the Victoria Press Building, which originally opened 50 years ago and was occupied by both the Victoria Times and the Daily Colonist, which merged in 1980 to become the Times Colonist.

Restoration and renovation of the building began in 2018, transforming it into 120,000 sq. ft of retail, office, and social space across three floors, 6,000 sq. ft of retail space with outdoor access, a 8,600-sq.-ft distillery inside the old print reel room, and a 43,500-sq.-ft rooftop patio and restaurant space.

Victoria Press Building - Merchant House CapitalRenderings of the Victoria Press Building's interiors. (Merchant House Capital / dHK Architects)

The Victoria Press Building restoration and renovation was designed by Victoria-based dHK Architects, but the Victoria Press Apartments will be designed by another Victoria-based firm, D'Ambrosio Architecture & Urbanism.

Merchant House Capital says "the point of departure for the design of the proposed residential building was the existing Victoria Press Building heritage structure" and that "understanding and appreciating its inherent architectural qualities and functional characteristics was a precursor to the design of the new residential building."

Accordingly, many elements of the apartment building make direct reference to the Press Building. For example, the off-white and greys of the apartment building mimic the Press Building's historic and improved colour schemes. Some of the building's use of brick was also influenced by the historic Bay Street Armoury nearby.

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"Over the ensuing years," Merchant House says of the Press Building and Press Apartments, "we are confident it will become a thriving urban village that acts as a hub for the Burnside Gorge community and a node for the city-at-large."

In January, Colliers, who are leading the leasing of the Victoria Press Building, confirmed to STOREYS that substantial construction of the building completed in November, and was approximately 50% leased to two major tenants: Codan Communications and Coho Commissary Kitchens. Tenant improvements are currently ongoing and are expected to be completed in the first half of 2023.

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