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Bateman Gallery, Maritime Museum propose trading places

The plan, if approved, would see the Maritime Museum finally move into a waterfront space in the CPR Steamship Terminal building
Sarah Theophilus, executive director of the Bateman Foundation, at the Robert Bateman Gallery, which is interested in switching spots with the Maritime Museum while it develops a new space. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The Bateman Gallery and the Maritime Museum of B.C. are working on plans to have the two attractions switch places, which means the museum could finally find itself on the Inner Harbour after more than 20 years of trying.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Jamie Webb, chair of the museum, which has been angling to get into the CPR Steamship Terminal building for years.

The Bateman Gallery, located on the second floor of the CPR Steamship building for the last 10 years, has decided to leave the space as its lease comes to an end.

The gallery plans to close in mid-February and develop a new space to open later this year. While it does that, it hopes to occupy the Maritime Museum’s current location at 744 Douglas St. with a temporary exhibit.

“We have been honoured to house the Bateman Gallery in the Steamship Terminal for the past 10 years. But like most cultural institutions, we’ve re-examined our goals and future and decided that we need a new location integrating art, nature, and education in a meaningful and impactful way,” said Sarah Theophilus, executive director of the Bateman Foundation.

Asked if the location was a challenge, the foundation would only say it was a strategic decision to have increased accessibility, growth and sustainability.

The gallery says it attracts around 15,000 visitors and 2,000 students each year.

The gallery and museum have been collaborating on the transition plan and are both waiting to hear from the Ministry of Transportation, the Steamship building’s landlord, and the City of Victoria, the museum’s current landlord, on whether the plan will fly.

The potential interim location for the Bateman Gallery within the Victoria Conference Centre will allow it to continue delivering programming and art exhibits as it develops a new customized space.

Webb said that space has been the perfect holding location for the Maritime Museum and should work well for the gallery.

The trading-places plan all hinges on what the province decides, as that will determine if the museum can move out of its current spot.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has been considering options for the CPR Steamship Terminal building since the provincial government took control of it in the fall of 2021.

The Maritime Museum has had several ­meetings with the ministry about the prospect of moving into the building, emphasizing the need for a collection that includes historic boats to be on the waterfront.

The last time the museum tried to get into the Steamship Terminal building was in 2015, shortly after the museum closed its doors in Bastion Square due to safety concerns in what was then a 126-year-old building.

But after months of meetings, negotiations with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, the landlord at the time, hit an impasse. At the time, the provincial government, which was helping in ­negotiations, said the rent was more than the museum society could afford.

Webb said they would be willing to be flexible to operate through the coming Belleville Terminal project. The province is planning a $220-million to $290-million new facility accommodating both the Clipper passenger ferry and Coho car ferry operations, along with the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs.

“We do want to get a toehold in the building,” Webb said, noting the ultimate goal would be to eventually occupy all of the Steamship building, which currently has a café and restaurant as tenants.

“I know that for the last 11 years, the business model in the building hasn’t worked. It’s underperformed. They’ve gone through a string of tenants and landlords, including the [Greater Victoria Harbour Authority], which gave the keys back just over a year ago,” said Webb. “I think it’s only fair that the Maritime Museum gets a shot at it.

“And we have the largest collection of CPR Steamship memorabilia in the country, so we could build something really spectacular to start with on that second floor.”

Webb said they are not asking for funding from the province, as they have capital to build out an exhibit in the space, but they are asking for favourable lease terms.

“We’re not asking to be in there for free, but we do need favourable terms that would allow us to survive and thrive in there, which is what nobody else has managed to do,” Webb said.

David Schneider, chair of the Bateman Foundation, said they are happy to help the museum get a step closer to a home in the Inner Harbour.

“Both organizations have ambitious strategies and are key to establishing a culturally vibrant Inner Harbour,” he said.

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