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Revived Ship Point plans aim to transform Victoria’s harbourfront parking lots

Phased work would look to green and pedestrianize the downtown waterfront
A previous design concept shows what could replace the Ship Point site that’s dominated by parking lots. (Courtesy of the City of Victoria)

B.C.’s capital city still has a large chunk of the harbourfront property dedicated to parking lots, but that could change as Victoria says the space presents the opportunity to create a world-class destination.

The city has revived its Ship Point Master Plan, which reimagines the waterfront stretching between Broughton Street and the visitor centre as a place filled with greenery, event space and people-oriented areas over the mostly paved status quo.

The planning for Ship Point began in 2017 before other city priorities paused the process shortly after a concept design was approved.

The phased proposal is highlighted by a restored shoreline with added ecology, improved surfaces, a terraced landscape that would have accessible pathways and a grand stairway leading down from Wharf Street. Seating on new greenspace that slopes down from Wharf Street would look onto a revamped pier that would host festivals, arts and culture events and a variety of other programs.

However, transforming the space comes with considerable costs and the need to address the aging infrastructure along the man-made shoreline.

At Thursday’s (Sept. 14) committee of the whole meeting, councillors supported having staff create a revised design concept for the seawall, site remediation and landscape improvements before a detailed design and updated costing comes back to council.

A previous design concept shows the terraced landscape and a grand stairway that would lead down from Wharf Street at Ship Point. (Courtesy of the City of Victoria)

With a previous design concept showing a road running through the revitalized site, a united council also supported that the future Ship Point space should emphasize shoreline access, pedestrians, greenspace, active transportation, recreation and the arts over surface parking and drivability.

Ship Point was originally used by First Nations as a gathering space and as a water access point before colonialism, which led to it becoming an industrial site over the last 100-plus years – with it hosting primarily cement production and storage until the mid 1970s.

City officials on Thursday said much of the site’s infrastructure is in poor condition, giving the example of how cracks in the seawall require ongoing maintenance and have caused inland erosion. The area is also at risk of liquidation in the event of a large earthquake, there is hydrocarbon contamination in soils across the site and the pier will require comprehensive repairs in the coming years.

A previous design concept shows the phased work plan for revamping Ship Point. (Courtesy of the City of Victoria)

The city is still looking at splitting the work into five phases as it would look to keep the design adaptable to issues and opportunities arising at each stage.

Phase one proposes to begin with shoreline restoration, site stabilization and surface improvements in the “picnic site” that jets out to the immediate north of the pier. Phase two would create a plaza around Harbour Air’s location, while the third stage would tackle some of the terraces and could include a pavilion building.

The final phases include building the terraces on the southern half of the site, along with replacing and landscaping the pier to be a festival-hosting venue.

While work at the pier space, located immediately west of visitor centre, is years away, councillors on Thursday unanimously supported a motion to reduce parking in that spot to immediately make way for pop-up activities.

Worsening site conditions in recent years mean the seawall restoration and geotechnical work will take more time and money than when the project was considered years ago, but staff said they’re also now equipped with new information on sea level rise and shoreline restoration approaches, including nature-based ones.

Cost estimates in 2018 pegged the entire project at around $65 million and councillors on Thursday also approved the city seeking potential funding opportunities for the work.

A previous design concept shows the first phase of the Ship Point revamp, which would create a “picnic site” after shoreline infrastructure is fixed and the site is remediated. (Courtesy of the City of Victoria)

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