Running the perimeter of the property at 203 Harbour Road, just North of the Ocean Point Resort on the Esquimalt side of Johnson Street Bridge, is a chain link fence. Walking to the Johnson Street bridge to shoot the cover photo, we passed through a gate in the fence and Dr David Green paused at the top to relate stories of junkies and drunkards, wallowing in the brambles growing up around the feet of the blue bridge.
There are no brambles or thistles or junkies any more. At least on that side of the escarpment. Nor is there a cluster or derelict, abandoned buildings lining one of the most accessible and solid wharves on the entire inner harbor. In there place is the Pacific Marine Technology Center (PMTC).
In 1992 Mike Murihead, President Western Subsea Technologies moved his company into the site formerly occupied by the Coast Guard. Left vacant for 10 years, the wharf, building and surroundings had fallen into disrepair.
“After the Coast guard left, the land entered the loop.” According to Dr. David Green, president, Carmanah Research Ltd. And President of the PMTC society, the land was first offered to all other departments and ministries at the federal government level and then at the provincial level and finally at the municipal level. He says the long process and bureaucratic machinations left the site in limbo. Green says Muirhead realized the potential of the site as both a high technology center and reclamation project.
As of January 1996, there are eight high technology and marine-based companies operating at 203 Harbour Road. All are members of the PMTCS, the non-profit association which has committed itself to revitalizing the area and creating a high technology center for down town Victoria. Green, a founder of Sidney’s wunderkind Axys Group Ltd., launched Carmanah Research Ltd in mid – 1993. An environmental consulting and development company, which has worked with BC Hydro and the Electrical Engineering Department at U.B.C., Green says the former Coast Guard site is an ideal site for Carmanah Research and a Victoria High Tech center.
“High Tech needs to attract clever people to survive. In order to attract the companies and individuals, we need a decent site.” Green says many successful Technology centers have located near University Campuses and areas conducive to learning, networking and industry. He says while the PMTC location is not fancy, it is peaceful: an enclave offering a certain “ambiance” which will encourage sector growth.
Green says the waterfront location serves several purposes for the center: easy ocean access essential for several for several of the Center’s companies; plans to make the wharf a port of call for research vessels plying the Pacific; isolation from traditional industrial zones which due to traffic and adjacent building power usage, may create an unsuitable and/or unstable environment for testing and research.
Green says municipal and federal government has been very supportive.
“The provincial government has shown no interest. We had planned to apply for an infrastructure grant to upgrade the location, but the provincial government refused to sign the necessary forms. We lack a mentor at the provincial level.”
At the municipal level, they have found the support of Colin Crisp, city manager, City of Victoria. Crisp serves on the PMTCS Board of Directors and, according to Green, has been instrumental in helping the interest in City Hall.
Under the present lease structure – currently under review – the various businesses operating on the PMTCS site sign three, three-year leases with the city. At the end of each three-year period, the businesses must approach the city to renew.
Green says while the site has been cleaned up and turned into a feasible center for operations, much more can be done. He says the main stumbling block is the lack of long-term leases.
“Like a Kernel, the PMTC is ready to grow to the next phase.” Green goes on to add, “What we need from the city are long term leases to allow for long term investment. Unless the companies have long term stability, there is no reason to invest and upgrade.”
Ally Colin Crisp says the short-term lease structure is in place because of the young age of the PMTC and the lack of a long-term plan by the Society.
“The entire thrust of the PMTC is to take full advantage of the site. This is an enormous opportunity and very exciting.” Crisp says after a long-term plan is developed and presented to the City, final approval rests in the hands of City Council. Crisp would not venture a guess on final approval of long-term leases for the site.
Crisp says the entire site has benefited from the actions of the PMTC. Calling it a “bootstrap operation”, the tenants have essentially reclaimed the buildings, which had been left to rot. He says the businesses had to cope with frozen and broken pipes and decaying buildings. He says the individuals took paintbrushes in hand and set about creating a good working environment.
Crisp says that the City of Victoria currently overseas 28 acres of property, running from Johnson Street bridge, along Tyee Road to point Ellice. This includes the RCMP compound and pier, right next door to the PMTC.
The RCMP compound is right at the top of Green’s wish list for 1996. According to Green, the wharf was formerly used to impound boats seized by the Coast Guard and RCMP. Now boat storage is done on Annacis Island in Vancouver. The buildings are still used to seize automobiles and various other items and an RCMP mess is also stored in the building. Green says the vehicles can easily be moved and stored elsewhere, freeing up even more room for the center and, inevitably high-tech companies, investment and jobs.
Green says the PMTC has bent the ear of many groups to gain access to the adjacent 11,000 square foot RCMP site and larger pier, including MP David Anderson, the Coast Guard and the RCMP. As of January 1996 though, Green says there has been little progress, adding “It is a bit of a crime seeing the site of a down town pier sitting empty.”
Bradly Moore, Marketing coordinator RSI Telerobotics says the young company moved to the PMTC from Sidney’s Marine Technology Center, feeling there was better potential in downtown Victoria. Moore says RSI enjoys the networking among other PMTC companies, but ultimately, all RSI is seeking is a stable environment.
According to PMTC materials, there are over 300 private sector high-tech companies on Vancouver Island. Employing more than 4,000 individuals, over $200 million is generated in revenues annually.
“The PMTC is a good positive initiative for Victoria. The success of Axys, which in five years grew from five to 100 people, is indicative of the potential of the high-tech industry. You don’t get that kind of growth in Government, forestry or in the mining industry.” Green goes on to add, “You can only get that kind of growth in the high-tech industry.”
Dr. David Green, Founder
Carmanah Technologies Inc.
Building 4, 203 Harbour Road, Victoria, BC, Canada V9A 3S2
Fax: 250 380 0062