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Public support for Vancouver gallery move is weak, council says Add to ...

In big, full-colour ads taken out in the city's newspapers this month, the Vancouver Art Gallery urged people to show their support for its proposal to build a "landmark" facility in a new downtown location. Supporters have been asked to e-mail Vancouver city council, which owns the land the VAG wants.

Council, as of Wednesday, has received seven e-mails.

If the VAG is to convince council that the public is behind its proposed move - as the city has instructed it to do - the gallery has a ways to go.

"We're at events almost every night," said city councillor Heather Deal. "I would say three-quarters of the people who come up to talk to me are against the move, if not more."

Ms. Deal, who has been asked by the mayor to take the lead on the issue, says the opposition appears to be related to the gallery's prime location. "The continual reference is to the VAG being the heart of the city in its current location, and if it moves, you rip the heart out," she said. "I don't know how many people who are upset about the move actually spend any time inside."

This is one of the issues Ms. Deal is anxious to hear more about when she participates in a panel discussion Thursday night on the VAG's plan to build a new iconic gallery, double its current size, at the old bus depot site at Georgia and Cambie Streets.

The city has heard from several interested parties with proposals that include building office towers, which the city wants more of. Further, there is a $48-million encumbrance on that land (money used to fund renovations at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre across the street), so city officials say they cannot see the gallery occupying the entire space, as it has indicated it wants to do.

"We've been very clear that we're talking about a shared site," Ms. Deal said.

The project is estimated to cost as much as $400-million. About $40-million has been raised in private donations, and the province has pledged $50-million.

Gallery officials have not yet put a formal proposal before council; that's in the works as the VAG tries to raise money - and support.

The VAG's efforts at persuasion appear to be happening on a smaller scale as well. Condominium marketer/art collector Bob Rennie, one of the plan's most vocal opponents, has recently been asked to lunch separately by two of the driving forces behind the move: VAG chair David Aisenstat, and Michael Audain, chair of the VAG's relocation committee.

"For Bob Rennie to be confrontational with one of the most philanthropic and generous souls in the art community in Canada, Michael Audain, this is not where I want to be," Mr. Rennie said of their lunch.

While Mr. Rennie considers Mr. Audain and Mr. Aisenstat friends, he has harboured a long-standing "distaste" - his term - for the gallery's director, Kathleen Bartels. But his opposition to this move, he says, isn't personal.

"If the Vancouver Art Gallery was not able to raise the money in probably the biggest economic boom that we'll all see in our lifetime, what's wrong with evaluating a different approach?" he said. "So if they go with a B.C. architect and they show fiscal responsibility and they pay attention to the [art] I'll shut up."

A public forum on the future of the Vancouver Art Gallery will be at the Robson Square Auditorium at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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