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VAG should consider moving into Sears site, advocates say

People walk past the main Sears store in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on February 23, 2011.

Andy Clark/ Reuters/Andy Clark/ Reuters

The Vancouver Art Gallery should adjust its planning for a new home to consider moving into the downtown Sears site, which is to be vacated this year, says the city councillor who has been handling theVAG-expansion file.

Sears Canada Inc. has just announced it will close the Vancouver store, located across Howe Street from the VAG, by the end of October.

"This is a new option. We should take a look at it," said Heather Deal, who is encouraging the VAG to open a file on the possibility of using the complex. Ms. Deal said she had not had an opportunity Friday to discuss the surprise development with the VAG.

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Ms. Deal said, however, it may turn out that it's cheaper to build a new gallery than moving into an existing building, but added that both alternatives need to be studied.

The gallery has been intent on building a new gallery on city-owned land at the Larwill Park site, located at Georgia and Cambie. City council has agreed to reserve two acres of the property for two years so the VAG can explore its options. Among other things, it has to come up with a business plan and raise the $250-million to $300-million required for the project.

Gallery director Kathleen Bartels, travelling Friday, was unavailable for comment. In a statement, the gallery said it was focused on planning for the Georgia and Cambie site. Dana Sullivant, marketing and communications director for the gallery, did not respond to voicemail and e-mail queries about whether the Sears building could affect those plans.

Michael Geller, a former member of the board of trustees at the VAG, said Sears was an opportunity the VAG should now consider, starting with a conversation with Cadillac Fairview, which owns the Sears property.

Mr. Geller, who said his preference was to keep the VAG in the heart of the city, said one option might be maintaining retail space in the lower levels of the Sears building and the VAG moving into the rest.

He noted there were discussions about VAG's use of the Sears building in about 2003 - with some design work done that proposed a walkway between the two buildings. However, the option was taken off the table because the Sears building was not going to be available for the foreseeable future.

"Given today's announcement, it would be appropriate to have some preliminary conversation with Cadillac Fairview," he said.

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Sears has released a statement saying that company policy prevents them from commenting on any plans or negotiations for the site.

Architect Bing Thom said the Sears building could host the VAG or expanded downtown campuses for the University of British Columbia or Simon Fraser University.

In an interview, he declined to pointedly encourage the VAG to look to Sears, noting it was a choice for the organization to make.

However, he said he welcomed the prospect of seeing the Sears building renovated.

"It's an introverted box, but you don't have to throw it away," Mr. Thom said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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