The Thunder Bay Art Gallery says it’s still aiming for a 2025 opening, but could face some budget increases, as construction begins on its new waterfront facility.
Crews with contractor Tom Jones started sinking piles at the new gallery site just south of existing development at Prince Arthur’s Landing on Monday.
“It’s kind of a historic moment that it’s finally started,” said director Sharon Godwin. “It is noisy, so we apologize to everyone working and living in the area, but we know it will be worth it in the end, and we appreciate everyone’s patience.”
Construction is expected to take 24 to 26 months on the project, which was first proposed in 2009 and faced numerous delays, including from COVID-19.
If all goes according to plan, that would keep the organization on track to open its doors to the public in the new location for its 2025 target.
“Our hope is we would be substantially complete later in 2025,” said Godwin. “That said, this is a very interesting time to be building — it’s a very volatile time in the construction industry, and in all parts of our economy.”
“So we expect there might be some supply chain issues, there might be some delays — there’s always been delays in this project. So we’re pushing as hard as we can… but if it’s 2026, it will be what it will be, because we need to do the project right.”
Godwin anticipates a gap of around five or six months in 2025 where the gallery won’t operate, after leaving its current space at Confederation College and before opening at the waterfront.
“We do need quite a few months of not being active in this building or that building, to move the collection,” she said.
The gallery secured final city council approval to build the facility in April.
The new building will offer more than double the current gallery space — 39,000 square feet on two floors, versus 16,000 now — and add new features like a café and event hall.
Along with a more prominent and accessible location in the heart of the north end, Godwin believes that will significantly increase the gallery’s contributions to the city’s cultural life.
The total cost for the new build, which has been pegged at roughly $50 million, could increase due to factors including inflation in the construction industry, she reported.
“We all know the impact of COVID and inflation,” she said. “There’s no question there are increases in cost. We don’t know all those increases yet, but we are working through it in a really systematic way.
“Once we know more, we can say more, but at this moment, I think it’s fair to say it will definitely cost $50 million, and it potentially may cost a bit more.”
She said the gallery is still working with contractors to tweak the building’s design in hopes of containing those increases, and has begun preliminary discussions with funders including upper levels of government on the possibility of funding increases.
Godwin emphasized that of the roughly $50 million raised for the project so far, the municipal government funded only around 11 per cent, with the federal government covering roughly 70 per cent, the province 11 per cent, and private donations making up the difference.
“The City of Thunder Bay has contributed $5.7 million to the project, which is phenomenal, but we always want people to understand the other $44 million has been raised [by] other levels of government, corporations, foundations, and local donors… so it’s a good return on the investment, I suppose you could say.”
The gallery plans to launch a public fundraising campaign in September, after raising $2.5 million in an initial “quiet” phase of local fundraising.
“We do need more money from the community, and there’s a lot of people who have asked us about giving, so we know the community wants to support this project,” Godwin said.
The federal funding in part supported the gallery’s plan for a carbon-neutral build, she added, one of the city’s first.
The city designated the gallery as a municipal capital facility in April, allowing it to exempt the gallery from property taxes and development charges, and offer other assistance like charging nominal rent.
Like many other galleries across the province, the organization is already exempt from local taxes in its current home on the campus of Confederation College.
The gallery announced in January it had hired Tom Jones Corporation as construction manager for the project, which has faced numerous delays since it was first proposed in 2009.
“We’re really proud of the fact that almost all of the work is being done by local contractors, local sub-trades — that was our goal from the beginning,” said Godwin.
“This is at least a $50 -illion project, so the infusion of that sort of money into this community — there’s no doubt it has real economic benefit for the community.”