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Ambleside Park tops new West Van arts facility recommendations

West Vancouver council now has a shortlist of options for where their long-awaited new arts facility will go.
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West Vancouver council now has a shortlist of options for where their long-awaited new arts facility will go.

Putting together a purpose-built arts and culture space for the community has been on the agenda for decades but after more than a year of study, the district’s art’s facility advisory committee tabled their final report last month, revealing the most promising options for a 21,000 to 25,000 square foot gallery and studio complex on both public and private land.

They are: the tennis courts in Ambleside Park, the south parking lot of Ambleside Park (or splitting the building into a gallery and a community arts space divided it between the two sites.)

The study also considered locating the facility on privately owned land as part of a larger redevelopment. The top considerations were the north side of the 1400 block of Marine Drive and the south side of the 1600 block.

The study looked at more than 20 potential locations, but those ones were ranked the highest when it came to suitability for the arts, ease of access, parking, finances and challenges for development.

Buildings the arts centre in one of the Ambleside Park locations would cost $34 to $38 million, the district’s consultant estimates, although about a third of that would go just towards new underground parking spaces. Splitting the building into two over both sites would push costs up to more than $50 million.

If council negotiated with a private land owner and developer to build the new facility within a larger development, it could cut costs for district taxpayers significantly, but it would also risk the arts centre losing its identity within context of the new building, the advisory committee warned.

Ingunn Kemble, a longtime member of the arts community, said after so many people had put so much time and effort into developing arts strategies and studies over the years, council should show action instead of continued dithering.

“It is time now for you to make up your minds – to put something in the ground,” she told council when they met on the matter March 9. “You have a chance to help the soul of this community. Do it now. Get on with it, please.”

For Coun. Bill Soprovich, the “where” was less of an issue than the “who” (as in who is going to pay for it?)

“That is a staggering amount of money for the individual taxpayer of West Vancouver,” he said.

Coun. Craig Cameron, who represented council on the advisory committee, expressed confidence West Vancouver residents, many of whom are generous patrons of the arts, would step forward and help with fundraising if council showed enough commitment.

“The only way this project will ever see actual fruition is if the mayor and council are forward looking, if we get right behind it and if we bring the community along with us,” he said. “This is the kind of bold, visionary thinking that we have to support and it’s the kind of community I want to live in.”

Mayor Mary-Ann Booth said it wasn’t a matter of if council pursues an arts facility, but rather a matter of which option the community shows the most desire for.

“I did run on a platform of having an exciting arts and culture facility and I have not wavered from that,” she said. “I said wouldn’t be happy until shovels are in the ground and I meant that.”

In any case, the existing collection of arts buildings – the Silk Purse and Music Box, the Ferry Building Gallery and Art Museum, are no longer suitable, said Jennifer Webb, co-chair of the arts facilities advisory committee.

“The hope for a new facility or new facilities has been alive for many years and I think the work Cornerstone and our group has done has made crystal clear is the fact there is a need for arts facilities. The ones we have are deteriorating as we speak. They’re not appropriate and they’re frankly not worthy in a sense, of our community,” she said.

Further consultations on which option council should pursue have been postponed by the district while health authorities contend with the spread of COVID-19.