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With home turf and the city’s blessing, VAG now begins the search for $350-million in funding for a new facility.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Emotions broke out at Vancouver City Hall late Wednesday afternoon, after council voted unanimously to support a new Vancouver Art Gallery.

The vote, to grant the VAG a 99-year lease for two-thirds of a block of city-owned land, means the gallery can now aggressively pursue the funding it needs – estimated at $350-million – to make the project happen.

"It's a historic day to make a decision to put arts at the forefront of our city-building," Mayor Gregor Robertson said in an interview after the vote.

The mayor, city councillors and members of city staff – some with tears in their eyes – hugged and congratulated officials from the VAG, who have been campaigning for a new building for years.

VAG director Kathleen Bartels, who described herself as "elated, thrilled, emotional," said the vote will be "huge" when it comes to raising the funds for the project. "The unanimous support of council will go a long way, not only with the other levels of government, but with the broader community."

VAG board chair Bruce Wright said meetings have already been set up to discuss architect selection and fundraising. Under the conditions laid out by the city, the VAG has until April 30, 2015, to raise $100-million from Ottawa, and an additional $50-million from the province, which has already contributed $50-million.

"I'm certainly going to play a key role in achieving the targets," Mr. Robertson said. "It's an aggressive timeline, but it's a really strong case for the new gallery and I'll be putting my shoulder to the wheel on it."

The vote followed a long list of speakers, all of whom support a new gallery.

"Thousands and millions of people for generations to come will thank you for this decision," said Hank Bull, co-founder of the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, or Centre A.

Mr. Bull said the decision was even more important for Vancouver than hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. "It's not an event. It's a building. It's a permanent legacy. … We did the sports. Now we're doing the arts. This is our future. This is who we are."

Addressing the concerns that have been raised about whether the gallery will be able to raise the funds, VAG Foundation chair Michael Audain – a collector who is building his own museum in Whistler – said: "I believe it is possible. I wouldn't support the recommendations if it wasn't."

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