Maritime Museum leaving Bastion Square for CPR Steamship building

The Maritime Museum of B.C. will reinvent itself when it moves from Bastion Square to the waterfront CPR Steamship Terminal, says the museum’s executive director.

“We are by no means considering picking up what we have, moving it over there and leaving it as is,” Jon Irwin said.

The museum announced the move on Tuesday, saying it is negotiating a lease that would see it reopen as early as May.

It has signed a deal with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, landlord at the four-storey CPR building, giving the museum the exclusive right over the next six months to negotiate a long-term lease for space on the bottom floor.

The museum intends to close its doors at Bastion Square on Oct. 21 so it can concentrate on the move.

“We see this as a huge thing for Victoria and the Inner Harbour in terms of bringing activity back,” Irwin said. “For the museum, it’s a huge step forward. I don’t know of any other maritime museum that isn’t on the water.” The museum’s current location is about two blocks from the waterfront.

Being in a landmark building within the “golden triangle” that includes the Royal B.C. Museum, Empress Hotel and B.C. legislature should bring a massive improvement in attendance, Irwin said. The museum has attracted about 20,000 visitors annually. “We anticipate those numbers climbing significantly in the new location.”

Curtis Grad, harbour authority president, said the museum is a good fit for the CPR building. “We have the cultural aspect with the Bateman Gallery and foundation on the top two floors, a good strong commercial enterprise at street level with the Steamship Grill and another cultural component below [with the Maritime Museum].

“We wouldn’t enter the option [agreement] if we didn’t think it had a good chance of success.”

The provincial government will negotiate financial terms on behalf of the museum.

The museum would move into about 6,500 square feet of space facing the water. That is considerably smaller than the 18,000 square feet at 28 Bastion Sq. However, the current exhibition space amounts to less than 10,000 square feet, Irwin said. A former courtroom, library and collections storage take up almost half the space — 80 to 90 per cent of the museum’s artifacts are not on display.

The museum will close at Bastion Square in October because there are not the resources to “stay open, run the museum and pack up,” Irwin said. He is confident a deal will be finalized shortly.

The museum has an agreement with the provincial government for

20,000 square feet of climate-controlled space to store its artifacts.

Paul Nursey, chief executive of Tourism Victoria, said the move makes sense.

“The Maritime Museum is a great attraction that maybe hasn’t had the best location, so on the surface I’m pretty pleased,” he said. “The causeway and Inner Harbour is strong but attraction clusters make a lot of sense.”

Hospitality industry consultant Frank Bourree agreed, but worried about the cost. “I absolutely think it needs to be on the water, it would be fabulous. However, can they afford market rent in that building?” he said.

As for the fate of 28 Bastion Sq., a provincial spokesman said the building requires significant repairs and upgrades. A business case will be developed to help determine the future of the building.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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