Something Completely Different

If you’ve found a successful niche in building and marketing condos, maybe it’s time to mix it up.

After three buildings of smaller units in the mid-price range, Vancouver developer David Chard’s fourth Victoria condo development is aiming at more affluent buyers. The Sovereign, an 11-storey tower tucked into a small lot in the 600-block Broughton Street is “totally different” from the other three buildings, says Chard.

“I guess we’ve tried to anticipate the market,” he says, anticipating that demand is reviving for higher-end condos.
Sure to attract attention are the two “car elevators” — you drive in and the elevator takes you and your vehicle to one of four parking levels. The first-ever car elevators in Victoria make the 53-slot parkade work in a building on such a small footprint. The usual circular ramps would have used up too much space. Chard’s other sites are 14,000 square feet, while this one is just 10,000 feet.

Who is the man who’s shaped a good chunk of downtown Victoria with about $100 million worth of residential construction? His grandfather was a Vancouver builder and Chard grew up in one of his houses. Chard Development started out in 1994 as construction managers, not developers, and worked for Hudson Bay Co. and Mountain Equipment Co-op, building across Canada for the two chains. His company had some projects in Toronto, but travelling east every couple of weeks from Vancouver — he still lives there — got to be exhausting. Seven years ago, he decided on Victoria, a much shorter commute. “We feel pretty comfortable here. We feel we fit in quite nicely,” he says.

“Victoria is a unique market. We find you’ve got to be patient,” he says. There isn’t the big influx of out-of-town buyers that Vancouver has, nor the one-day sellouts of condo projects that seemed routine earlier this decade. “Don’t rush it,” is his byword for the Victoria market, pointing out that, for the Sovereign, he had a development permit two years ago.

{advertisement} He’s been very good at figuring out what works in Victoria. His Corazon building on Cormorant Street near City Hall did well, and the Juliet at Johnson and Blanshard is a sold-out success. Chard postponed the next building, the 834 nearby on Johnson, for a year in the worst of the 2008-09 downturn. Now, the 834 is coming out of the ground, and “we’re sitting at 70 per cent sold.” Completion is targeted for the fall of 2011.

The Sovereign, is “going high end,” says Chard. Apartments are 600 to 1,600 square feet and the glossy, colour 20-page brochure talks of “curated décor” like the units were in an art gallery. The classy display suite is in Trounce Alley, in the former Nushin boutique. Chard is aiming for 50 per cent pre-sales before construction starts, likely next April.

After four buildings in downtown Victoria, number five will branch out, but not very far. He’s planning a condo building in James Bay behind the legislature. The site is currently a parking lot at Menzies and Michigan Streets, and Chard is preparing for rezoning and development permit application.

Low profile no more

It’s one of the biggest landlords in Victoria, active in the housing market for half a century and owning a dozen buildings for a total of 662 apartments and townhouses. But unless you make out your rent cheques to the organization, you may never hear of it.
“For years, we just went under the radar. Nobody knew who we were,” says Eric Dahli, chairman of the Greater Victoria Housing Society and a board member for most of the last decade. “We are looking to see our profile in the community raised,” says director Ian Batey. It started in 2006 with a new name and a new mandate for the society, originally the Victoria Senior Citizens Housing Society, which started in 1956 and built and rented only to low-income retired folks.

In four years, the GVHS has doubled the number of buildings in its portfolio, some acquired from other nonprofits relieved to pass along responsibility for running a single seniors’ building. GVHS has a $5-million annual operating budget.

Most of the society’s tenants — a majority are still seniors on fixed incomes — earn less than $30,000 a year. With its changed mandate, the society moved into family housing and is starting to help younger single people on limited incomes. The latter can benefit from lots of programs and dollars for skills training and job finding, but once they’re working, there isn’t anywhere affordable to live, says GVHS executive director Kaye Melliship.

The last new building the GVHS put up was the 39-unit Grafton Lodge in Esquimalt in 2004. Last year, it bought Forest Heights, a 19-suite block on Quadra Street. The GVHS has two projects on the go in partnership with private developers. Knappet Construction plans a mixed residential-retail building in a former Rock Bay metal-working shop. Knappet will build conventional commercial space on the ground floor and “we’ll own the top two floors as one strata,” says Melliship. The second project is on the Gorge at the former Capri Motel property with RealHomes Development Co.

Fundraising will be a new activity at GVHS, as senior government funds for low-income social housing have shrunk. Batey chairs the committee and he has a $3-million annual target. “We could build a building a year,” adds Melliship. GVHS has a new manager of revenue development, Craig Vanni, formerly at the B.C. Cancer Society.

Suburban offices

The big Class A office buildings downtown get all the attention, but small is also beautiful. A new four-storey office block planned for Shelbourne Street across from University Heights mall is filling up, and the 5,000-square-foot floor plates are one reason. That size is easier to lease than the bigger downtown towers with three or four times as much space per floor, says Anne Tanner of DTZ Barnicke. She and Ross Marshall are leasing the four floors. Negotiations are well along with a restaurant group for the ground floor.

A Toronto-based national organization wants a full floor upstairs and there’s interest from the Saanich “dental community.”
The suburban location next to Tuscany Village shopping centre is a lure for some tenants. “People don’t have to come downtown anymore,” says Marshall. Praxis Architects designed the building for Gordon Head Properties Ltd., owned by Edward Park, who has Ivory Academy English-language school downtown. The $10-million building is expected to open late next year.