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Vancouver Art Gallery might have to bail on False Creek

June 3rd, 2009 · 20 Comments

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are lots of simmering undercurrents in the city’s attempts to plan Northeast False Creek.

One of the biggest is what is happening with the Vancouver Art Gallery. If you’ll recall, Premier Gordon Campbell made the strangest announcement of all time last May when he said the gallery would be relocating to a site near the old Expo Plaza of Nations. That was even though he is 1. not the owner of the land 2. not the director of the art gallery 3. not a city planner or council member. Whatever.

There was an obscure line in the news release saying that the landowner, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, which now owns the Plaza of Nations land, was willing to allow the gallery to move there in return for “future development considerations” from the city. We’ve NEVER had the details on what all of that meant and neither has the city. Staffers to this day will talk about how the announcement came as a “total surprise” to them, even though they were in the midst of allegedly trying to plan this area.

At any rate, fast forward a year and the VAG has has feasibility studies done by architect Richard Henriquez. Neither I nor anyone on council has seen the report, but there seems to be a lot of information floating around from it about the negatives for the site. It’s essentially fill, which means construction will be tricky. The water table there is high, which means you can’t go underground for storage or parking or anything.

I haven’t heard anyone specifically mention it, but it is a bit of a bold move to put an art gallery in an area that currently doesn’t attract what I’d call a super-arty crowd. There are two sports stadiums, a casino, a Costco, a nightclub and, if I’m not mistaken, a sports-video-gaming type place. As well, it’s cut off from the rest of the city by the stadiums, the two sections of Pacific Boulevard and the mini-cliff at that edge of the downtown.

On the other hand, you could imagine that area transformed into a dramatically new kind of waterfront filled with activity, like London is along certain parts of the river. The Tate Modern, which occupies a former power plant on the river, has turned into a hub of activity, with all kinds of bars, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment clustered around it. There are many who’ve criticized Vancouver over the years for creating such a boring waterfront, with walkways and parks and nothing else. An art gallery on the seawall might be just the ticket to start changing that.

So it could potentially be a great spot, if everything converged in the right way — or it could be disastrous.

However, it is sounding increasingly as though that argument is moot, as you can read here. People from the gallery are holding to the line that they are still looking at the site as an option, but I am hearing from several, including mournful ones who would have liked to see the gallery there, that it’s increasingly unlikely.

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