Meewasin move to Mendel site revives aborted 2005 plan; Lamb & Knight serve on secretive River Landing destination centre steering committee
News that the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) is contemplating moving into the
The StarPhoenix reported on Apr. 7 that the MVA is eyeing the Mendel site once it’s empty. The gallery announced on Apr. 3 it’s changing its name to the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan and is proposing to move to a new $55-million facility at the troubled River Landing.
‘The MVA board of directors will take the next few weeks to decide which option to pursue: Occupying the Mendel site or building an $8.9-million interpretive centre at its current location in the former Rothman’s building in Friendship Park,’ the article said.
City councillor Darren Hill, a member of the Meewasin board, said all four councillors on the Meewasin board are in favour of moving to a vacated
Hill estimated it would cost no more than $1 million to relocate and renovate the Mendel, plus around $2 million to set up exhibits in the interpretive centre. He also said the present building would likely be demolished if the MVA moves out.
The Mendel and MVA plans mirror a scheme that was launched in late Sept. 2005 when the city, according to an Oct. 12, 2005, Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) briefing note, “put forward the option of relocating the Mendel Art Gallery… to the cultural centre” at River Landing.
In an Oct. 4, 2005, report to the city’s executive committee, the then city manager, Phil Richards, said administration had “engaged Mr. David Russell, a tourism consultant based in Vancouver, to examine the feasibility of” a destination complex.
“In order to evaluate further possibilities for the destination complex, we have approached the
“Under this potential scenario, the destination complex would include Persephone Theatre, the
The executive committee received Richards’ report at its Oct. 11, 2005, meeting.
Richard’s report proved to be somewhat misleading. On Oct. 11, 2005, the Mendel issued a media release advising that it had not received a formal development plan from the city to relocate to River Landing. All that had occurred was a “sudden, short discussion” held on Sept. 27, 2005, between city officials and Mendel management.
Terry Graff, the Mendel’s director and CEO at the time, said the board heard the city wanted to make a proposal and said it would listen.
“That was the extent of it. There was not much to it (the meeting) and there’s been nothing since,” Graff said. [Mendels threaten to pull cash gift: Plan to move art gallery doesn't sit well with donors (StarPhoenix, Oct. 12, 2005)]
Also on Oct. 4, 2005, Meewasin CEO Susan Lamb sent an email to WD’s Daniel Watson and David James providing an update on her organization’s activities. The correspondence, obtained under federal freedom of information legislation, states in part:
“You are also aware that we have been approached about moving to the
The names of the two individuals referred to by Lamb were severed from the document. What’s clear though is that someone approached the MVA about moving to the Mendel. Since the city ultimately calls the shots regarding the gallery the assumption is one or both of the names could be city administrative staff or elected officials.
The minutes from the Oct. 7, 2005, Meewasin board of director’s meeting indicate that the issue was discussed but no meaningful details are given.
It should be noted that both Lamb and the Mendel’s current board chair, Dr. Art Knight, were appointed by city council on Apr. 7, 2008, to serve on the city’s River Landing Destination Centre Steering Committee. The committee is mandated to “oversee the consultation process and recommend to City Council a preferred concept for the Destination Centre.”
According to a city administrative report considered by council at its Jan. 14, 2008, meeting, the committee “should complete this work within four months of its inception and provide a progress report to Council once a month.”
It’s been more than a year since the committee was established and there are no reports being submitted to council. There is only silence. The city is also refusing to release certain records concerning the committee.
On Mar. 2, an access to information request was submitted to the city for copies of the minutes to any meetings conducted by the committee. The request was denied on Mar. 13 because the group has not completed its work. The city has given no indication whether the committee will be allowed to finish its work and submit a final report. It remains unclear whether the latest attempts to move the Mendel and Meewasin were discussed by the committee, whose deliberations are shrouded in secrecy.
The potential fallout of Meewasin moving is the impact it could have on
Present zoning allows for an eight storey building on the Meewasin site. However, at the Apr. 5, 2004, city council meeting, city administration put forward a proposal to amend the DCD1 to allow for nearly half of Friendship Park to be opened up for development. Fortunately, the proposal didn’t succeed.
Given Mayor Don Atchison’s thirst for development in the south downtown if Meewasin were to eventually move then look for council to take another look at the DCD1.
As of June 30, 2006, the estimated market value of the MVA property was $477,000.