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Maritime Museum sees stars aligning for a shot at moving into a waterfront address

CPR Steamship Terminal building on Inner Harbour seen as an ideal location; museum is now in quarters at Victoria Conference Centre
The departure of Riverside Marine’s V2V business is one factor that has boosted the Maritime Museum of B.C.’s hope of moving into the CPR Steamship Terminal building on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Maritime Museum of B.C. hopes to finally get its wish of a waterfront address now that the provincial government has taken control of the CPR Steamship Terminal building on the Inner Harbour.

Jamie Webb, president of the ­museum’s board, said it seems as if the planets might be aligning to make it happen. “We would love to be there,” he said. “Maritime museums have to be on the water the way aviation museums have to be at airports.”

Webb said the disruption of the pandemic, plenty of vacancy at the CPR Steamship building since the departure of Riverside Marine’s V2V business, and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority bowing out as head lease-holder could translate into another chance for the museum to get into the building.

“We have been talking off and on with the ministry over the last year, trying to work an angle to at least get a presence in the building,” said Webb. “We think [the disruptions] have ­created an opportunity.”

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is considering all options for what to do with the CPR Steamship Terminal building.

The ministry, which had been in discussion with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority about taking over the main lease of the building, is now determining how best to use it.

“As [the ministry] has only just taken on day-to-day responsibility for the Steamship Terminal, it will be assessing opportunities to optimize the building’s use either for provincial purposes or for third-party leasing of vacant space,” it said in a statement.

So far, that has not progressed beyond an internal assessment of provincial need. The ministry noted if it decides to explore leasing out space to a third-party it would solicit pubic interest.

“The Maritime Museum of B.C. could submit a proposal for consideration at that time,” the ministry said.

Webb said there’s no question the museum is interested.

“This is the third time in 11 years we have approached various levels of government when opportunities have arisen to get into the building,” he said.

The last time 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.

After months of negotiation, hopes of relocating to the Steamship Terminal were dashed when negotiations with the building landlord, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, 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.

Instead, the museum moved into 3,000 square feet of space in the Nootka Court building on Humboldt Street in 2015. This year, it moved to three ­storefront spaces at the Victoria Conference Centre on Douglas Street.

Webb said the museum’s lease with the City of Victoria is fairly flexible, and if talks with the province go well, the end of its first lease might dovetail nicely with a chance to move to the waterfront.

“I think it’s a rare planetary ­alignment,” he said.

For years, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority has spoken with the province about the possibility of handing back the lease of the CPR Steamship Terminal building as it added more red ink to the authority’s books.

Last year, the building, designed by architects P.L. James and F.M ­Rattenbury and opened in 1924, cost the harbour authority $1 million to run and only brought in $800,000. The previous year, the costs were the same but it only brought in $600,000, according to the harbour authority’s financial statements.

The harbour authority reported a $1.1 million total loss for last year, largely because of the absence of cruise ships due to the pandemic. The previous year, it posted a surplus of $3.6 million.