Luxury condominiums in a Victorian-style building with waterfront views are up for grabs in south Nanaimo, but then again, location is everything.
The Robins Grove project at 104 Esplanade, across from the Wellcox rail yard, is about the last place one might look for $575,000 condos, but developer, Glen Hommy, who lives in St. Albert, Alta., and owns gas station convenience stores throughout that province, sees a real estate gold mine in the former site of a coal mine superintendent’s 18-room luxury home.
Robins’ Gardens, listed in Nanaimo’s heritage registry, is covered in exotic trees imported from around the world and planted by Samuel Robins, Vancouver Coal Company Mine superintendent from 1884 to 1903, and an avid gardener. The giant sequoias, atlas cedars and other exotics create a unique miniature forest and home to an eagles’ nest next to Nanaimo’s industrial waterfront.
Hommy, who loves trees, snapped up the property while visiting Nanaimo in 2005.
When Hommy viewed the site, it was home to a collection of rundown, low-rent cabins, the remnants of a 1940s motor court.
“I just sort of overlooked all the badness that’s there and I said, ‘You know, someday all this will change and I’m going to be a part of it,’” Hommy said.
Hommy chose a Victorian style for the $30-million, three-phase project. Construction for the second phase, a 24-unit building, starts in 2017.
Cody Dreger, partner with Layzell, Dreger, Walton and Associates real estate firm, admits “for many years Haliburton Street, for Realtors, has not been a good name.”
“We’ve talked a lot about the fact that might be five to 10 years early on this, but … I firmly believe that Haliburton and that area, one day, is going to be one of the nicest areas in town,” Dreger said.
In the late 1800s, the area was Nanaimo’s premier neighbourhood.
Bill Corsan, city real estate manager, said Nanaimo’s south end “is transitioning in the right way” with upgrades to existing homes and new small multi-family projects started and at the approval stage.
“I think these guys are the trail blazers, I’d suggest, but somebody’s got to start … it’s nice when somebody steps up and brings in a higher-end product that I think kind of sets the standard for the next phases of development in the neighbourhood,” Corsan said.
Hommy said property near a downtown core of a harbour city doesn’t lose value and Nanaimo is attracting baby boomers looking for retirement homes.
“Are they going to pick very expensive Phoenix and Palm Spring or are they going to go to the Okanagan or Vancouver Island?” Hommy said.
The first residents will move in in September.