Art gallery expansion could start this year, hinges on $10M of federal cash

A major expansion of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria could finally get underway within the year, says the gallery’s director.

Jon Tupper said officials are just waiting to hear whether the federal government will commit $10 million to the $30-million project.

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“We were supposed to find out early in 2020, which is now,” he said. “So we should be hearing some news and we’ll start working right away.”

Victoria city councillors, who are meeting in committee of the whole today, will consider approving a new development permit for the property at 1040 Moss St.

Tupper said the previous permit expired while officials tried to raise enough money for the expansion, which was first announced in 2012.

Those efforts have now surpassed $16 million, including private and corporate donations as well as a $6-million commitment from the B.C. government.

If the federal government comes through, the rest of the money would be raised during the construction phase, Tupper said.

“The thing is that good things take a long time and an astonishing thing takes a lot longer,” he said.

The proposed expansion, if approved, will increase the gallery’s total floor space by about 40 per cent to 4,900 square metres from 3,500 square metres, a city report shows.

Some of that additional room will be used to increase exhibition space as well as storage for the gallery’s permanent collection, which includes more than 20,000 pieces.

The rest of the expansion will be used to provide a number of “social spaces” and meeting rooms that people have come to expect from public facilities, Tupper said.

“They want more of a social experience when they come to an art gallery,” he said.

“For example, people really want a café here. They don’t see why we don’t have a café. So we’re going to have a café.”

A city report says the project involves the partial demolition of the existing building, an increase in the number of storeys from two to four, and enhancements to the adjacent Spencer Mansion, which was built in 1889 and served as the gallery’s original home. Twelve new Garry oak trees will be planted on site to replace six trees slated for removal, the report says.

Staff are recommending that councillors approve the development permit, noting that gallery officials have chosen “a design approach that tries to strike a balance between respecting heritage-conservation principles, retaining many of the Garry oak trees and integrating a development project into the surrounding established neighbourhood.”

Tupper said he’s optimistic council will back the project, adding gallery officials have done their “due diligence” and tried to address any concerns.

“I think we’re trying to be good neighbours here,” he said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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