Art hub and museum among pitches for future of Bastion Square landmark

Plans for an arts hub at 28 Bastion Square are among expressions of interest submitted to the province as it considers the future of the historic building.

The Maritime Museum of B.C., which was based in the building for close to 50 years, is also eager to use it again, with additions to allow for more storage space and travelling exhibitions. It’s prepared to share space with other groups.

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The province’s request for expressions of interest in the building, the largest in Bastion Square and a national and municipal heritage site, closed Friday.

The province is examining submissions, hoping they will help craft a competitive bidding process to revitalize the 30,401-square-foot building, including ideas for financing.

That could be through a deferred payment, revenue-sharing plan or other models, according to documents accompanying the expression-of-interest request.

Because of the heritage significance of the building, the province prefers to remain the owner.

The wood-frame and brick four-storey building was constructed in 1889 and originally served as a courthouse. Later, the Maritime Museum was based there until 2014, when it relocated to a smaller space after the province said there were safety concerns with the old building.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city didn’t submit its own proposal but is part of the arts-hub plan, which was submitted by a third-party entity.

A creative hub would “allow cross-pollination of ideas, sectors and projects for further collaboration and innovation in the culture sector,” Helps said, tying in with the Create Victoria arts and culture master plan.

Victoria’s creative and artistic community needs stable, secure space, Helps said. The hub would include space for Indigenous arts and cultural practices.

A 2018 cost estimate for an arts hub was $20.5 million, provincial documents said.

Work done so far on the building, which has been vacant since 2014, has addressed water leaks, mould, asbestos, plaster and the original wood-frame windows, but the building remains unsuitable for occupancy, documents say.

The former courthouse’s features include high ceilings, natural light, hundreds of operable windows, and views of the harbour, say documents, along with a prominent location “commensurate with its historical role as the physical manifestation of law and order in B.C.”

The original design and construction were “exceptionally robust for its day and age, providing a solid base for revitalization.”

The ideal use would “strike a balance between social, environmental and heritage considerations; provide social, cultural and economic benefits; and demonstrate value-for-money while minimizing financial risk and preserving the esthetic and heritage features of this historic building.”

The goal is for the building to be financially self-sustaining.

In the past 65 years, the building has experience “limited investment,” resulting in deferred maintenance and poor-quality improvements, documents said. Issues include inadequate washroom facilities, the need for a seismic upgrade and lack of parking.

Although the province needs more office space, the building is not suited to conventional government offices, so that kind of proposal is unlikely to be considered, documents say.

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