The city is firmly behind the Royal B.C. Museum’s expansion plans, but a proposed commercial office space on site is raising questions.
Last week, city council discussed the rezoning application to support new gallery space and collections tower. To generate income in the short term, the museum proposes to lease up to 450,000 square feet in its proposed 16-storey tower. Eventually, as the museum’s collection grows, it plans to gradually displace its office tenants until it occupies the entire building.
“That might or might not happen,” warned Coun. Pam Madoff.
If the museum’s collection doesn’t expand as planned, the tower could remain an office in perpetuity, confirmed senior planner Kevin King. “Staff decided to steer away from the idea of a covenant that would phase out the office in the long term,” he said.
The possibility didn’t concern Coun. Geoff Young. Office space is not an undesirable addition to the downtown, he said.
On the whole, councillors approved of the application, which could potentially double the floor space of the museum.
It’s proposed 300-stall underground parking lot is not as big as generally required, but bike parking and change rooms are included to compensate. Other green features include a rain garden and thermal heating.
“If the wasn’t the Royal B.C. Museum, if this wasn’t our most important cultural asset, I certainly wouldn’t be even considering the kind of density that we’re looking at on this site,” Madoff said.
Through letters, Victoria tourism industry also voiced its strong support of the museum’s expansion.
“Recognizing the extreme importance of the Royal B.C. Museum to our visitor economy, Tourism Victoria believes strongly that the City of Victoria should support the zoning proposal,” wrote Rob Gialloreto, president of Tourism Victoria.
Next, the citizens will get a chance to weigh in at a public hearing.
Note: an earlier version of this article contained an error. The portion of the tower the museum would like to lease as commercial office is 450,000 square feet.
Did you know?
The museum is currently zoned for two family dwellings. The rezoning application under review entails moving St. Anne’s schoolhouse to Thunderbird Park, where Helmcken House and Mungo Martin House are located. The height of any future buildings would be capped at the same height as the current Fannin Tower, which the museum plans to demolish.