After years of planning, work on the new waterfront Thunder Bay Art Gallery will begin in the coming weeks.
The announcement came Monday as the gallery revealed it has hired Tom Jones Corporation to be the construction manager.
The project was initiated in 2009, and by 2012 there was a proposed opening date of 2019. But that fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons, including environmental investigations, the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges obtaining funding.
A key funding hurdle was passed in June 2022 when MP Patty Hajdu announced that the federal government had approved almost $20 million from the Green and Inclusive Communities Building Fund. T
he announcement that the project is ready to proceed came the same day that Art Gallery director Sharon Godwin's retirement plans were revealed. After 42 years of service, she'll step down from her role as executive director this June, but will stay with the gallery as the waterfront project lead until it's completed.
Godwin has headed the campaign to relocate the art gallery from the grounds of Confederation College to the waterfront
. In a statement Monday, she said the economic impact that the construction and operation of the new building will have on the city will be substantial, and that it will attract tourists and people from around the world.
Godwin said reclaiming the brownfield site on the waterfront lands will also provide additional access to the shore of Lake Superior for local residents "in both indoor and outdoor spaces" planned for the new gallery.
Parker Jones, president of Tom Jones Corporation, said the company looks forward to collaborating with the art gallery to help it achieve its vision, "which will contribute significantly to our community's cultural life and economy, and serve as a beacon of creativity and inspiration for all who visit."
Site and foundation work are scheduled to begin soon, with completion expected by 2025.
In addition to federal funding — which amounts to 70 per cent of the total cost — the province and the City of Thunder Bay have each contributed 11 per cent.
About $2.5 million has also been raised locally, and a community fundraising campaign will kick off this spring to obtain the balance.
City officials said last week that the city is continuing to work out the details of an agreement for the art gallery to lease the property where the new facility will be built.
"It has been a very long project, with lots of ups and downs," Godwin said in an interview. "The community's been very patient. We're working through and being very careful about how we proceed so that we have a successful project. We're all very happy that we can actually get going on site."
Christine Bates, chair of the gallery board, noted Godwin's "exemplary" contribution to the arts in Thunder Bay, Northwestern Ontario, the province and Canada.
She said the board appreciates her willingness to oversee the project during construction. The nationwide search for a new executive director is already underway.