THUNDER BAY – The potential sale of the Eaton’s building is forcing arts groups that have called the site home for two decades to relocate.
The building, which had been the former home of the Eaton’s department store in Thunder Bay before it closed in the 1990s, is rumoured to be in the process of being sold to U-Haul.
Several of the groups that had been renting out space in the building have left after receiving eviction and termination of lease notices.
Among the groups searching for a new location is the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, which had been in the building for 20 of their 30 years.
Executive artistic director David Karasiewicz said leaving their long-time home is bittersweet.
“The bitter part is obvious. You have generations of artists that we’ve supported over the 30 years. I think we’re looking at 1,000 exhibitions, events and activities in that time supporting 28,500 artists and 750,000 in audience,” Karasiewicz said on Thursday.
“We’ve seen a lot but that’s just spawned something really great for the future. The space we’re looking at probably moving into provides even more opportunities, especially for the artists. Talking to the artists, they’re excited.”
A search of property’s ownership title earlier this week showed that a change of ownership has not yet been finalized. A U-Haul spokesperson confirmed that the property is considered as a potential acquisition but the building hadn’t yet been purchased.
Karasiewicz said he first heard rumours about a potential sale last spring, and then learned in the fall there was substantial truth that it was going to happen.
Definitely Superior, which has a Feb. 24 exit date, is one of the last remaining tenants in the building. Karasiewicz said the building’s current landlord pushed for them to stay to help bridge the gap for them to find a new space.
Thunder Bay city council on Wednesday night voted to approve $28,500 in funding for Definitely Superior through Municipal Accommodation Tax revenue, at the recommendation of the Community, Youth and Cultural Funding appeals committee, to help offset the higher rent in the gallery’s tentative new location.
Coun. Andrew Foulds said Definitely Superior came to the appeals committee seeking emergency, one-time funding.
“I think they’re a wonderful addition to our downtown,” Foulds said. “I think it would be a shame if a vibrant arts and culture community had to leave or close down because they couldn’t find a space to get their funding to deliver programming.”
Karasiewicz said their current landlord largely subsidized their rent in the Eaton’s building, which would result in increased expenses in their targeted new space. Karasiewicz said the location is “on the periphery” of the downtown.
“This is really helpful in making that transition,” Karasiewicz said.
The Eaton’s building, bordered by Red River Road, Court Street and Park Avenue, is located in the heart of the north downtown core.
Karasiewicz said the arts community played a large role in changing the cultural ecology of the community and city, helping to make the area more attractive when it had been struggling.
“When we started doing certain larger events, especially Urban Infill, the whole idea was to draw people back into the downtown core,” Karasiewicz said.
“Getting people en masse back downtown was challenging but it worked. When you have a draw of 450 artists at one time on one night, it’s pretty amazing. That grew and every location, because we took over empty spaces, abandoned spaces, underutilized spaces, and every year those spaces were rented and bought. Over the course of the 12 years we did Urban Infill, 30 buildings and spaces have been taken over.”