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Art gallery's $14-million upgrade looks to renovation rather than move downtown

Nov 07 2012
This 9,500-square-foot mansion built in 1889 is part of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria at 1040 Moss St. 

This 9,500-square-foot mansion built in 1889 is part of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria at 1040 Moss St.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is contemplating a $14-million renovation and expansion at its Rockland location rather than moving downtown as long planned.

"The board realizes that this is really not the right time to be looking for another space downtown," gallery director Jon Tupper said Tuesday. "Financially, economically, all this stuff has to be paid for. We own this property."

Tupper said if the gallery is to remain at 1040 Moss St. for the foreseeable future, it has to ensure it looks after its collection and programs "in a way that's appropriate for the city."

Cramped conditions in the 23,000-square-foot space mean visitors can view only a fraction of the gallery's 18,000-piece collection, valued at more than $100 million.

The gallery owns a Syrian altar piece from the third millennium BC that almost never goes on display, for example, he said. "It's the oldest piece in the collection, but we've shown it once. People need to see these things."

Also, little money has been spent in recent years to upgrade the art gallery, Tupper said.

Plans call for at least 5,000 square feet of additional exhibition space, and multi-use and education space of about 2,000 square feet, for a total of 9,000 or 10,000 square feet of new or rejigged space, he said.

The gallery is currently restricted to its footprint and would need the city's approval to go ahead with an expansion. "Whatever we do has to be sympathetic to the neighbour-hood," Tupper said. "It has to protect the trees."

A capital campaign would be launched to raise money for the expansion.

Ideally, the phased process would be finished by 2017, he said.

The gallery issued a request for proposals that closes Nov. 26 for architects to present ideas. One or more may be asked to submit designs, Tupper said.

The request for proposals says the gallery should be a "significant and innovative structure, one that is fitting for a public art gallery in the capital city of B.C." It says it should have a "wow" factor to attract donations while it is being planned and visitors once it is completed.

Updated environmental systems, seismic upgrading, a modest café, a new entrance and a larger gift store are among possible improvements.

The 9,500-square-foot 1889 mansion, designed by William Ridgeway Wilson, is on the city's heritage registry but has not been designated as heritage.

Donated in 1951 by Sarah Spencer - daughter of department store magnate David Spencer - the building saw additions in subsequent years and was repainted in 2004 to reflect its original colours.

New art gallery locations considered since the 1980s include St. Ann's Academy on Humboldt Street, Centennial Square, the Malahat Building on Wharf Street, the Crystal Court Motel site on Belleville and a Pembroke Street site now owned by B.C.

Hydro, Tupper said. Factors including zoning restrictions and site contamination have kept the gallery at its current spot, however.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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