Is that a store? Live/Work vs Ground Floor Commercial

Live\work units at 860 View Street
Across from Capital Iron there is a gravel parking lot that has been there forever. Recently, signs have gone up around the perimeter indicating that this will be the location of a new building with the very urban sounding name of Ironworks. This is the latest Chris LeFevre creation in Victoria. LeFevre is up there with David Chard and the Jawls for having had the largest impact on the visual form of Victoria in the last 25 years. 

Ironworks lot
While few details on this project are known, it did come out in the discussion of the project on VibrantVictoria that there is only one commercial space planned for the building and it will be on the corner of Chatham and Store Streets.

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One could say that this is an area of downtown (Not really downtown...) that has been ignored and any improvements should be lauded but something about the lack of store fronts in the building bugged me more than it would have if it were even one block to the east. Further information indicated that its northern face would consist of a number of live/work units and that these would step in for commercial if it was needed. 

I think that live/work spaces are great, they provide an alternative to just having townhouses or building commercial space that will sit vacant (or even worse, end up being a ground floor office). This type of space has become much more popular and in some cases it works and in others it doesn't. Here are a few around town that work or don't.

1030 Yates Street
1030 Yates Street

This project is perhaps the oldest of the buildings that I am looking at. It was built during the time when the plan for Harris Green was to have low-rise projects with various different street-front interactions. This building has three live/work spaces fronting onto Yates Street. One space is a hair salon and the other two are some sort of either financial planning space or wellness space. None of these are high traffic commercial spaces and it is unlikely they ever will be. Part of the challenge with these is that to further hedge their bets that no commercial would go into the spaces at all, each space has a large patio on the front that in some ways tells those walking by that they should keep on walking. That checking out the storefront in some way would trap you in the space.

844 Johnson Street
The Corazon and 844 Johnson Street

I put these two together as they are similar and were both built by David Chard. The 844 has three units along the front which look quite residential with small patios on the front. The Corazon has four units, each also with a small patio. The only difference between them is that one is on a busy street and one is on a quiet
The Corazon units
side street. Out of all the units in both buildings, however, it appears that only one is being as residential, the rest have businesses in them. The units on Johnson feel more cut-off from the street by their patio's and I think this is because it is a busier street and the units feel more out of place. At the Corazon, the units are attractive and one could imagine actually wanting to sit out on the patio here. In the future I could see that the units on Johnson could have the patios removed to make them into real storefronts. 

860 View Street

This building is somewhat unique in the city. It was also part of the same movement in Harris Green as 1030 Yates Street, but it presents in a much more urban way. Almost like a post-modern take on a New York brownstone. This building has four live/work units on the ground floor. Two of the spaces are being used as commercial and two of them seem to have been kept as residential. The only real flaw with the spaces is the tinting on the windows, as it prevents people from looking in. Still in comparison to 1030 Yates these spaces can be easily converted to useful commercial spaces if they needed to be. As this part of View Street stands now, I think that the spaces are likely as successful as they can be. Should the street change to need more commercial space,  it will be easy to convert these units. 


Hopefully the Ironworks building will provide units that can be flexible like the ones at 860 View Street but maybe look more like store fronts. The key challenge with the live/work model is that the spaces are still meant to be residential which precludes a large number of businesses. A true commercial space has more opportunities for use. 

My central concern about the Ironworks proposal that sets it apart from the other examples downtown, is that this site still feels like a contiguous part of Old Town and is supposed to have real commercial spaces. I had imagined that this would have spaces more like the Union building on Fisgard Street. Of course, I still have not seen a rendering so I am keeping an open mind. 

What are your thoughts on live/work going into this project?