Six months after going public with plans to relocate to the former bus-depot site behind the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Vancouver Art Gallery has been granted a new home—beside B.C. Place Stadium.
The surprise announcement came today (May 16) from the premier’s office, couched in a press release focused on the stadium’s renovation. According to the release, the BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo)—the provincial Crown corporation that operates B.C. Place—worked with the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and Canadian Metropolitan Properties to move the VAG to the CMP-owned Plaza of Nations (which was previously developed and owned by PavCo).
“It was a site we had identified early on in our process and it just became available to us really recently as a really strong possibility,” Kathleen Bartels, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s director, told the Straight. “We obviously seized the opportunity and are putting our efforts into that site....All our planning has been focused on the old bus-depot site, which we’ve been working at for a number of years. Now we will switch our focus and really be focusing all of our planning efforts on the False Creek site.”
Canadian Metropolitan Properties will provide the VAG with a waterfront site for a 320,000-square-foot facility, in return for future development considerations from the City of Vancouver. The new gallery will be double the size, have a footprint of 110,000 square feet, and offer the institution additional opportunities for outdoor programming.
Warren Buckley, CEO of PavCo, told the Straight that his company had negotiated with CMP to secure the gallery site. “We’re trying to broker the deal so the art gallery would own the land,” he said. “What we have right now is a letter of intent between the owners of that land...would gift the land to us, and then we would then provide that land available to the art gallery to build the art gallery on.”
Bartels said the VAG will likely put out a request for proposals to architects before October, which is when PavCo expects to wrap up zoning and project approval plans for the stadium renovation. “That will give us time to do all the studying that we need to do so we can get moving forward very quickly,” she said, adding that she expects construction on the new gallery to begin in early 2011.
The new gallery site puts the public art institution near both the stadium and the Edgewater Casino, and reopens speculation about the city’s “cultural precinct” project, in which the VAG was expected to anchor an arts hub situated around the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, bounded by Georgia, Dunsmuir, Hamilton and Beatty streets.
Architect Bing Thom, the brains behind an early cultural-precinct model featuring a decentralized collection of smaller institutions, hailed the announcement as a good move—provided the Georgia Viaduct is removed.
“It will connect the two ends of False Creek and Stanley Park and give it two strong anchors,” he told the Straight in a phone call. “But we should really take down the Georgia Viaduct so we can get to the water. Georgia Street then will be a phenomenal street, with the art gallery on one end and Stanley Park on the other. It will really enliven, I think, the whole end of False Creek and hopefully in the future connect False Creek to Chinatown and Gastown. The whole East Side will get a big pick-up.”
Thom said he hoped to see new arts facilities built on the former bus-depot site, including a national gallery of aboriginal art and a home for the performance venue championed by the Concert Hall Arts Complex society (formerly the Coal Harbour Arts Complex society), which would consist of a 1,800-seat hall and a 400- to 600-seat theatre.
“There’s rumours that there’s some legs to building a new kind of Chan Centre downtown,” said Thom. “I think it’s a series of very good moves. It’s good for the city, good for the province, good for the arts. I think a lot of that depends on taking a hard look at taking down the Georgia Viaduct. That would be phenomenal. That would really re-energize that end of the downtown.”
Calls to the city’s office of cultural affairs have not been returned.