Vancouver Art Gallery planned its move on city-owned parking lot on Georgia Street

Today, the Vancouver Sun has carried on its front page what looks like a news release from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Of course, it doesn't say "news release", and it doesn't appear on the VAG Web site with all of its other news releases.

But to me, the article certainly had that feel.  The headline reads: "Vancouver Art Gallery chooses site for new museum".

If you drill deeper, you'll see that the VAG has its eyes on the city-owned block across the street from the Sandman Hotel on Georgia Street just east of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. It's a huge parking lot and was one of the city's Live sites during the Olympics.

There are three people quoted in the print edition of  story that arrived on my doorstep: VAG chairman David Aisenstat, the chair of the VAG relocation committee, Michael Audain, and the VAG's director, Kathleen Bartels.

The Vancouver Sun did not include a response from the city. Nor is there any sign of an attempt to seek a comment from Canadian Metropolitan Properties, which  owns the Plaza of Nations.

Nearly two years ago, Premier Gordon Campbell announced that the B.C. government was contributing $50 million to help finance the VAG's move to a new waterfront location near the Plaza of Nations.  

In October, the Straight reported that Canadian Metropolitan Properties hadn't received confirmation that the VAG was going to move there.

The company's senior vice president, Daisen Gee-Wing, told the Straight at the time that the city had suggested he prepare two development options. One should include the VAG and the other shouldn't.

The VAG never made Aisenstadt or Bartels available to the Straight to talk about this.

Anyone who knows anything about public relations will surmise that the VAG planned its move on the city-owned site  long in advance.

The VAG knew that the Leonardo da Vinci show would attract huge audiences during the Olympics. It would also bring many "newbies" into the gallery, and they would witness how crowded the facility was.

That would set the stage for announcing a new site in the week after the Games ended.

By handing this story over  to the Vancouver Sun, this ensured that the VAG's gambit would get on the front page.

The paper returned the favour by not quoting anyone who might be critical of turning over a prime piece of downtown property to the art gallery.

The VAG also talked to the Globe and Mail, snaring the front page of the B.C. section. At least the Globe included a quote from the city.

The site across from the Sandman Hotel is far too large and  far too valuable  only  to accommodate the VAG, so there will likely be office towers and/or condominiums included in the development.

I would expect that the  developer  will receive a large  density bonus in return for making room for a new art gallery. This will help finance the project.

Of course, none of this appeared in the VAG's  news release—oops, I mean the Vancouver Sun article. That might muddy the waters and generate a backlash from those who prefer that density bonuses be used to finance affordable housing.

By releasing the story at this time, it also shifts attention away from the B.C. Liberal budget. Finance Minister Colin Hansen failed to heed the advice of a legislative committee to restore arts funding to the 2008-09 level.

Meanwhile, other media outlets that cover the arts—including CBC Radio, CBC TV, the Georgia Straight, and CTV, to mention a few—were left high and dry because the VAG  chose not to distribute a news release to everyone simultaneously.

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Mar 23, 2010 at 2:21pm

Whether the VAG relocates to the Georgia St. parking lot or to the Canadian Metropolitan Properties False Creek location - are you sure they are both owned by mega developers that only want the VAG on their sites in order to receive a density bonus? Is the Premier still promising $50 million to the VAG no matter what site they chose? If not, why the keen interest from the Premier over the False Creek area? If the Georgia location is "city-owned" then there is not yet a developer? If it is "city-owned" and too large, then hopefully the city will do what is right and not only have the art gallery built there but social housing and revenue based spaces - retail/office/etc....not more condos! Could it be the reason why the VAG wants to move there instead of the Canadian Met Properties - so they don't fell like their in bed with the Premier and the Developer? That would be a great story to follow, as well how about the pros and cons of each site. Is the Georgia st location better for a large city art gallery to still be in the heart of the downtown vibrant core rather than on a water's edge next to empty condos? Has any City Urban Planner been interviewed over that? Should social housing be planned in False Creek instead of an art gallery? I look forward to your next article hopefully answering these more important questions.

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Michael Cox

Apr 16, 2010 at 5:08pm

That the VAG needs more space is well-known, not only to show more of its collection, and bring in larger shows, but also to house its collection, which is currently crammed into basement storage. What we are missing, as you pointed out Charlie, is some dialogue from "stakeholders," which ought to include all the citizens of Vancouver as well as the monied class and the planners and the developers, about where we would like to see the VAG.
Some architects are currently working on a series of concepts which would have the VAG remain where it is, but with a total revamp of the site, particularly in the "front" which is currently the "rear"--the Georgia Street side. Those two plazas on either side of the fountain, which are used mostly for demonstrations and film crews, could be turned into stylized wings for the VAG. The stairs could be incorporated within the addition. The fountain: well, perhaps it stays, perhaps not. The centrality of the current VAG is not to be so easily dismissed by those who would have it on the False Creek north waterfront--a terrible long-term plan, if one is at all aware of the potential for rising ocean levels, not to mention the extra atmospheric dampness at water's edge.
The other site, behind the QE, could shift downtown's gravity toward its origin, Gastown/Woodwards. It would be, I suppose, one of those extraordinarily complicated architectural wetdreams which the world has perhaps had enough of: the undulating surfaces, the glass pyramids and oddly-angled walls. It would cost a fortune. And how much more space would it encompass than adding to the current VAG building I wonder.
Finally, there is another site which begs, just begs, to be used as a "VAG Modern": the Sears department store (once Eaton's). Gut it, make a huge hall at one end for installations, put video projections on the exterior walls as was done during the Olympics, tie it in to the current VAG site with a tunnel and/or overhead bridge. There's just one problem, but it's not a big one: Sears would have to go. But...
Has anyone actually shopped there?

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