The Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Park is open for business.

The Saanich facility opened its doors Wednesday with the area's political heavyweights heralding the event as the next stage in Victoria's high-tech sector taking on the world.

They also put their money where their mouths were.

Federal Environment Minister David Anderson handed over $300,000 to match the provincial government's commitment to the complex's business centre.

"(It) is exactly the type of facility Canadians need to foster business excellence and take on the world with their products and ideas," said Anderson.

"The high-tech industry is the third-largest employer in the Greater Victoria area, and the investment in the technology park will ensure that it continues to grow and the region prosper."

About 180 people gathered for the grand opening of the $11.9-million conversion from the Glendale Lodge, many of them representing businesses who may be contemplating a move to the centre.

Though the centre has only leased out 20 per cent of its 165,000 square feet of space, the site's general manager says it won't be long before that number increases significantly.

Sandy Beaman says the opening has rekindled interest in the high-tech park and that he's been fielding calls all day from prospective tenants.

"And recently we have been touring companies through here daily," he added.

The site has signed five tenants: Epic Biosonics, which has developed a prosthetic device designed to restore hearing to profoundly deaf people; ETraffic Solutions, creator of software for Internet delivery of educational systems; Jasco Research, an acoustic research firm; Aspreva Pharmaceuticals, which develops high-value medicines for rare medical disorders; and Omega Biosonics, which extracts phyto-nutrients from botanicals for health-care products.

"And we are in discussions with a whole series of others," said Beaman.

Some critics have suggested the market isn't there for this kind of space in Victoria, and that the lack of tenants at this point is proof. But Beaman maintains the project is still on track.

"The leasing cycle is such that from the time it takes a company to realize it needs more space to the time it moves is a significant period of time," he said.

"Our original business plan was to see this full in five years with the bulk of it done in the first three years."

The first year will be up in September, at which point Beaman will know exactly where the facility stands along that time line.

"But right now, we have more than 30,000 square feet leased out and I am pleased with the progress," he said noting the downturn in the high-tech industry and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hurt the market. "But right now we believe we're on track."

Beaman does not consider the 180,000-square foot space once occupied by JDS Uniphase at the Keating Industrial Park as competition, as the two sites are targeting different clients.

The Island Advanced Technology Park is geared for small-to-medium sized companies needing between 2,000 and 12,500 square feet of space.

He says the JDS building, vacated when JDS downsized its global operations last year when the telecommunications industry was ravaged by a glut of inventory, would accommodate the larger ones. "It has 20,000 square feet of clean room space alone," he said.

The U.S. Green Buildings Council presented a Gold Award to the owners of the park, B.C. Buildings Corp., for its cutting-edge environmental and energy-conscious design.

The award recognizes the green adaptations within the buildings, grass and gravel parking lots, storm-water recovery systems, power purchased from methane gas conversions, bike paths and landscaping.

"The province is committed to creating common-sense solutions to the environmental challenges facing British Columbia and the world," said Saanich South MLA Susan Brice.

" This building shows that we can safeguard the environment while promoting economic development."

Partnership agreements have also been signed with the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology centre, Camosun College, Royal Roads University and the University of Victoria to open the door for research and learning opportunities.