Vancouver can’t afford to let the Vancouver Art Gallery occupy its prime empty chunk of downtown land by itself – as gallery leaders are insisting they must – because that site has to make a profit to pay back a $48-million debt the city took on four years ago. If the gallery were to get its way, the city would have to find other strategies to cover that debt – perhaps by turning to taxpayers.
Several city councillors and staff have confirmed that the previous city council agreed in 2006 to cover the cost of the extensive renovations to Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Playhouse through a loan that would eventually be paid back from the profits of developing what is called the Larwill Park site, an empty block next to the theatre.
That means that if the art gallery goes onto the site alone, instead of sharing the block with an office tower as the city had originally planned, the city would either have to cover that $48-million debt through future property taxes or hope to get it back from the gallery.
The people behind the VAG’s push for a new, grand facility are adamant that it not share the space with an office tower.
“Art museums are not generally built in skyscrapers,” relocation committee chair Michael Audain said. “And I think that we do need a certain amount of area … a minimum of three acres in order to interest an architect to produce something on a lower-rise scale which will meet the functional needs of an art museum and at the same time be visually important.”