By Wendy Stueck
The Globe and Mail,
April 23, 2002

 Victoria is perhaps best known for tea and crumpets, mild weather and for a few weeks earlier this year, as the home of "Camp Campbell" when protesters set up tents in front of the provincial legislature to protest against Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell's cutbacks.

"Technology hub" doesn't spring to mind, but some hope that could change with the opening of the Vancouver Island Technology Park, under development for the past two years and officially opened this month.

The facility, comprising just over 160,000 square feet of commercial space, was formerly a residence for adults with physical and mental disabilities that opened in 1971 and closed in 1996.

British Columbia Buildings Corp., the crown corporation that owns the complex and the 14-hectare site around it, began work in 1994 to determine the best use for the facility.

"A research park emerged as the most encouraging option, and eventually we built a business case around it, "said Sandy Beaman, general manager of the technology park.

That business case holds that provincial support – to the tune of $11.9-million worth of renovations and improvements – will pay off in a facility that will support and nurture the region's fledgling technology sector, create co-op learning opportunities for students and thereby boos local learning institutions, and lead to other economic benefits over time.

Spending for the facility was approved under the previous NDP government, but Mr. Campbell, who won a landslide election victory last May, did not pull the plug and Liberal MLAs attended recent opening ceremonies for the park.

Regardless of its political roots, the park is getting a warm welcome from industry observers.

"We have never had a place where you could say there was a focal point [for technology]," said Doug Taylor, president of the 600-member Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Centre. "One of our problems here is letting people know that there is great technology going on."

Some critics, however, object to the province pouring money into a tech park while it cancels early-stage technology programs.

The project suffered from bad timing as its space began to come onto the market as the technology market was in a funk and many companies were either cutting back or canceling expansion plans.

Currently, the facility is about 20-percent leased, with deals signed with five tenants and others under discussion.

Mr. Beaman said planners expected it would take up to five years for the project to be fully leased.

The park is expected to build strong links with neighbouring schools and colleges. One of Camosun College's two campuses is nearby, and the park is a 15-minute drive from both the University of Victoria and Royal Roads University.

Renovations and site improvements to the park followed the latest "Green" building guidelines and made it the first project in Canada to be certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.

Some of the sustainable factors at the park include a parking lot that features grass, gravel and interlocking plastic bricks. The system filters harmful compounds from storm water and allows it to be discharged into the water table.

The park is also outfitted with thermal heating loops that will store excess heat from tenant areas or computer rooms and make it available for morning warmup instead of heat from gas-fired boilers.

Mr. Beaman said the green approach costs less, not more, due to several factors, including hiring a specialized demolition company that salvaged and sold nearly everything on the site and submitted a bid that was substantially lower than those of conventional demolition and construction teams.

"Our budget was set prior to deciding to pursue the green technology," Mr. Beaman said. "But [the park project] demonstrates that it doesn't have to cost more and, in fact, can cost considerably less.