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City looks to offer supports for waterfront art gallery

The move would allow the city to exempt the new waterfront art gallery from municipal taxes and provide other assistance.
Thunder Bay art gallery new
An artist's rendering envisions the Thunder Bay Art Gallery's new location at the waterfront, expected to open in 2025.

THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay is proposing to designate the Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s new building at the waterfront as a municipal capital facility, allowing it to be exempt from local taxes and receive other supports from the city.

The art gallery is already exempt from those taxes at its current location at Confederation College, said executive director Sharon Godwin, calling that standard for arts organizations in the city.

The designation is conditional upon the signing of a ground lease that will allow the gallery to make use of the currently vacant lands between the marina and the Pool 6 dock. The new, larger gallery is expected to open in 2025.

City council will consider a staff recommendation to make the designation at a Monday meeting.

If passed, it would allow the city to exempt the gallery’s building and the lands on which it sits from municipal and education taxes and development charges.

A report from the city’s realty services division says the designation would also allow the city to “provide financial and other assistance to the [gallery] for the operation of the building, as set out in the ground lease.”

The report noted the lands in question were previously designated for community use and therefore not intended to generate revenue for the city. Previous reports to council had also indicated the city would provide tax exemption and other assistance, the report stated.

The lease has not yet been signed and its conditions aren’t yet known.

The city and the gallery have been in negotiations and the approval of the lease is “imminent,” said Godwin.

That will allow the gallery to move forward with building permits and proceeding with work on the site.

“There’s a hope that we’ll be dealing with contractors by the fall," she said. "I would love it if we could see some shovels in the ground before the snow falls."

A 2025 opening target remains realistic, she said, but cautioned it's not a certainty.

“Right now, the whole construction industry is extremely volatile, as everyone knows – prices, supply chain issues, all kinds of things. Those are the things that could affect our project.”

The new waterfront gallery will increase opportunities for the public to engage with art as well as economic benefits, she said, providing a significant cultural attraction at a waterfront that's also expected to see a new science centre in the coming years.

“We had cruise ship passengers coming here – they made their way this far," she said. "So when we’re at the waterfront, it will be even better."

"The economic impact of the construction and just running the gallery – all of our arts organizations in town have a really strong economic impact in this community. So the city supporting them, there’s a big return on that investment.”

The gallery has raised just shy of $50 million so far for the build, with $35.7 coming from the federal government, $5.7 million from the province, $5.7 million from the city, and $2.7 million from community contributions.

The city was not immediately able to provide comment on this story Wednesday.

Ontario’s Municipal Act empowers municipalities to designate “municipal capital facilities” that are operated by outside agencies but provide public services in line with municipal responsibilities.

That includes “facilities used for cultural, recreational or tourist purposes,” as well as associated parking facilities.

The gallery would be required to enter into an agreement with the city stipulating the building’s use as a municipal capital facility.

The Act allows municipalities to make the designation only for facilities and land it owns, or that it would own at the end of a lease term.

The city will be required to pass a bylaw to make the designation, which it will do following signing of a ground lease with the gallery. It would then have to notify Ontario’s Minister of Finance, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), and local school boards of the decision.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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