City Approves Plans to Relocate Vancouver Art Gallery

The main entrance to the current Vancouver Art Gallery.

The $300 million plan to relocate the Vancouver Art Gallery could create a Georgia Street cultural corridor

Council unanimously approved a long-term lease for the Vancouver Art Gallery for a portion of Larwill Park, a city-owned site at Georgia and Cambie, on the condition that the VAG raises $150 million for the project by the spring of 2015. Currently the location of an Easy Park lot, the approved plan would see a new gallery open in 2019, occupying two-thirds of the city block.

The gallery is obligated to raise $300 million for construction costs of the new building, as part of the plan put forward by city manager Penny Ballem. The gallery will also have to raise another $50 million for its future operational endowment, as the VAG’s year-to-year budget is expected to double if it moves to the new site.

Former premier, Gordon Campbell, a long-time supporter of the move, promised $50 million to the project in 2008, which will work towards the overall $300 million cost of the building’s construction. Additionally, under the newly agreed plan the VAG needs to raise another $50 million from the provincial government, in addition to $100 million from the federal government.

While the city’s conditional commitment (subject to the gallery’s ability to raise $150 in funds by 2015), gave the project a big boost, supporters still face an uphill battle in convincing the federal and provincial governments to invest in the project. Cabinet minister Bill Bennett, who oversees cultural spending, has said that the province will not commit more than the $50 million ($54 million now, due to inflation) promised in 2008.

The federal government may be even more withholding.“The government of Canada has not been presented with any official proposal for a new Vancouver Art Gallery, and while the government continues to pay down the deficit, a multi-million-dollar funding commitment is not something our government can afford,” said Sebastien Gariepy, press secretary for Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore, in a statement.

A Georgia Street Cultural Corridor?

If the VAG were to move to Larwill Park, it could anchor a Georgia Street cultural corridor, connecting the Old Courthouse, Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Vancouver Public Library, said the city’s chief planner Brian Jackson to council.

The city valued its contribution of the 1.8 acre site under its current zoning at $50 million, but critics of the project peg it higher, arguing that the city will lose out in the tax revenues and community amenity contributions.

Part of the city’s designated business district, the land is subject to restrictions on condo development. However, Jackson argues that the remaining one third of the block should be rezoned for residential development. In tandem with the redevelopment of the federally-owned Canada Post office two blocks west, the VAG could revitalize the area, shifting the downtown core east, say supporters.

The gallery’s business plan emphasized the economic spinoffs: a 2012 report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers estimates that development could lead to $299 million in GDP growth. Opening year attendance could hit 450,000, buoying the gallery’s revenue from visitors, which is already comparatively higher than most Canadian museums.