A Whole Waterways Plan & Its Catalyst
From Ogden Point to the Portage Inlet, Victoria hosts an extensive, unique waterway with the potential to be a renowned whole ecosystem that is a landmark signature feature of the City and region.
Requiring close collaboration with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, the municipalities of Saanich, Esquimalt and View Royal, and with industrial and residential upland shore owners, this “whole waterway” vision would bring together ideas and plans from each of these stakeholders in a collaborative effort to create a unified ecosystem highlighting showcasing the relationships among the people and animals that inhabit the adjacent lands and waters of the whole waterway. As it has done for a number of visionary projects, the City of Victoria can convene and facilitate this table of innovative planning and foresight.
The City of Victoria already has the key starting point for this regional endeavour – the Ship Point Master Plan, first imagined from the Harbour Vitality Principles in 2014, the Ship Point Concept Options and Master Plan Assessment Phase Summary documents of May 2017, and public engagement activities and reports in summer and fall 2017. The Master Plan was presented by city staff to Council in early summer of 2018, and was welcomed but “received for information” only, pending a subsequent council resolution to direct staff to take the next steps – to report back with a costing and implementation strategy for council’s consideration. Council never requested those next steps, so the plan has sat on a shelf, in abeyance since then.
The Ship Point Master Plan imagines a comprehensive vision that encompasses three concepts: Matoolia, with green space expansion, flexible open spaces, dramatic views, and a Wharf Street extension; a Connection Hub, with opportunities for multi-modal transportation links, a continuous waterfront connection, access to and from the water, vehicular access and parking; and a commitment to a Working Harbour, with permanent structures, a diversified shoreline, improvements to the harbour economy and enhanced marina services.
A renewed Ship Point will offer a unique space for event programming, exciting daily access, easy, accessible circulation among unique materials with a balance of character and innovation in a sustainable, resilient design – a destination worthy of Victoria’s prime waterfront property.
The Ship Point Master Plan is referenced in each of the last two approved city strategic plans. In the current strategic plan, there is a note stating: “Review the Ship Point Improvement Plan and consider funding options”, intended for 2023 under Strategic Objective 8, Strong Liveable Neighbourhoods. In the previous Council’s approved strategic plan, the 2019 objectives refer to “Increased waterfront park space at Ship Point resulting in community wellness and economic vitality”. The Ship Point Master Plan has always been a year out on the strategic objectives list and thus staff have never formally been tasked with reporting back on the implications of proceeding, to enable Council to move this forward.
Aside from the spectacular addition to the waterfront and inner harbour, community benefits from implementing the Ship Point Master Plan are legion, starting with the potential for something on the order of 70-100 construction jobs resulting from the construction phases, and the longer term impact of the enhanced space and associated tourism and economic vitality benefits – also a boon for job creation.
Other longer term benefits include livability benefits and a dramatically enhanced urban park space for the fast growing downtown population. Tourism benefits associated with a spectacular urban waterfront park. Connectivity benefits linking Wharf Street to the waterfront and enabling the better connection of the waterfront walkway. Ecological benefits from reducing urban parking lot capacity and replacing it with terraced parks which mitigate urban heat island effect. Opportunities for enhanced cultural showcase through better performance and festival provisioning (and the ability to extend the season for events). Opportunities for enhanced cultural and artistic presence for local First Nations. Opportunities for micro-retailing (food and beverage offerings) to better activate the waterfront and create innovative amenities for residents and visitors. Further alignment with City’s Capital Planning requirements given shoreline repairs and restorations that are needed in coming years. To name a few!
Timing is everything. The Ship Point Master Plan envisioned completion of the project in four phases, spreading out the funding requirements and allowing continuity of operations on the site during construction (like Harbour Air’s access and on-going summertime festivals and events). Phases 1 and 2 could take up to 18 months each to complete (and could conceivably overlap). Phases 3 and 4 are larger and likely to be at least 24 months each. This means we can complete at least Phases One and Two, and begin Phase Three, in this next term.
Costs for the Ship Point Master Plan have obviously risen since first imagined 5 years ago. Preliminary, basic costing back in 2018 estimated general costs in the range of $60-$75million as total capital cost for the full implementation of all four phases. A current estimate would need to be done as one of our next steps.
Arguably, a sizeable part of this cost (perhaps 25% or more) is related to shoreline restoration and stabilization which the City needs to consider in the near future regardless, and thus such costs could be considered under a separate budget. The need for the shoreline work to occur in the regular course of the city’s infrastructure work could be an effective way to bring Phases 1 and 2 forward (as they are related to the Shoreline locations) and thus economies of scale and efficiencies could be had. Even if the shoreline work is excluded, Phases 1 and 2 of the Ship Point Master Plan are smaller (in both cost and scope) would be the logical “chunks” to begin to demonstrate value proposition and progress the project.
Overall, experience has shown that parts of the project be eligible for provincial and/or federal funding support. The Ship Point Master Plan advances multiple strategic areas (livability, urban parks, reduction of urban heat island, cultural spaces, shoreline rehabilitation), all of which are identified as priorities by both the federal and provincial governments. A few provincial and federal programs for which the Ship Point Master Plan may qualify:https://www.canada.ca/en/parks-canada/news/2021/08/government-of-canada-invests-130-million-to-work-with-partners-to-create-a-network-of-national-urban-parks.html and https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/infrastructure. Other levels of government are also more inclined to match and fund projects of this type when private donor funds are contributed, as an indication of community support for the proposed initiative – I believe strongly that the Ship Point Master Plan will garner significant such support once the city commits to its implementation.
Ship Point is just one small section of the world class vision for the whole Ogden Point to Portage Inlet Waterway. It is one of several parts (including the Ogden Point Master Plan, in conjunction with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, and the extension of the David Foster Harbour Pathway including pedestrian bridges) over which the city has individual authority to act, while seeking a collaborative planning process with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, the municipalities of Saanich, Esquimalt and View Royal, and industrial and residential upland shore owners, and where necessary the federal and provincial governments, for a whole waterway visioning.
The Ship Point Master Plan has been in the works, and on the shelf, for more than 8 years. It’s a catalyst for the re-imagining of a landmark natural, whole ecosystem feature that starts in the city and graces the region. It’s time to dust off the plan, update it and get to work.