The long-empty pipe shop building at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue could soon get a new lease on life if the City of North Vancouver follows through on a tentative plan to house a new museum there.
Council voted Monday night to put up $75,000 to develop a business plan, a fundraising feasibility study and more detailed exhibit designs that would help determine the viability of the attraction proposed for the 100-year-old site.
At a cursory look, the pipe shop location appears to be “feasible, desirable and cost effective,” according to Nancy Kirkpatrick, director of the North Vancouver Museum and Archives. “For an investment of approximately $9 million, we can develop a fantastic museum at this location that makes use of this wonderful heritage building,” she said. “It won’t be a traditional, old-style — dare I say, boring — museum. We’re really looking at making this a much more active, contemporary, interactive place that will be more relevant to peoples’ lives.”
The pipe shop property is owned by Pinnacle International, though the city has a 50-year lease on the building. It was renovated in 2009 with the intention of using it for commercial space, but that plan fell through along with the long-sought-after National Maritime Centre.
The municipality has mandated that neither the city, nor the District of North Vancouver incur any increases in operating costs above what they are currently paying.
The $75,000 for the three studies will come from a $2.7-million capital budget the city has set aside for the project. Once the studies are complete and the location is confirmed, Kirkpatrick and her team will be better able to line up donors who can help offset construction and operating costs, she said. Other grants and leftover senior government funding for the Maritime Centre could also bring down the price to taxpayers.
The concept design and the idea of placing the museum on the waterfront won unanimous support from council, but some members had significant concerns.
“I think this $75,000 will be money well spent in terms of getting a lot more information, but there’s a long way to go,” said Coun. Craig Keating. “I don’t want to falsely raise expectations.”
The project may be a little too ambitious for a city of just 50,000, he added, noting that as an avid historian, even he rarely visits other community museums.
“Let’s be realists about this. I just don’t get people from the City of Vancouver banging on my door, saying: ‘I want to learn about the history of North Vancouver,’” he said.
Coun. Rod Clark noted that in 50 years, Pinnacle may decide to evict the museum, and the city would have no legal recourse.
“Our $9 million in capital costs and ongoing operations and whatever we (do) to keep the place up in the meantime (would be) out the window,” he said. “This business case better be pretty good.”
Others were more enthusiastic.
“I’ve heard it said you’re not a real Canadian community without an ice rink,” said Coun. Guy Heywood. “I think we probably can be, but you can’t be a Canadian community without a museum.”
The city also needs to consider the economic spin-offs the museum could bring, as well as the inherent value of having a cultural centre on the waterfront, Coun. Pam Bookham argued.
“It’s important that we be able to tell our ongoing story,” she said. “It’s not just about the past. It’s about the history that we are creating right now. There is continuity.”
The business plan, exhibit designs and fundraising feasibility study should be ready by the end or 2012.