22 February 2018

New home for New Brunswick Museum to further uptown renewal: mayor

Premier Brian Gallant announces province's intention to purchase waterfront property for new building

By Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, CBC News

The new New Brunswick Museum will be built on the old Canadian Coast Guard site in uptown Saint John, provided the necessary funding falls into place, officials announced on Thursday.

The provincial government plans to purchase 0.8 hectares of the Water Street property for the new museum, which will replace the two existing facilities, Premier Brian Gallant said during a news conference at the Market Square location.

The deal to buy the waterfront land from the city is expected to close "on or before Sept. 30," Gallant said, declining to divulge any details before then.

The provincial election is slated for Sept. 24.

The federal government has still not committed any funding to the project, which will bring the uptown public exhibition location, as well as the archives in the older museum building on Douglas Avenue, in the city's north end, under one roof.

But Gallant told reporters talks have been "very positive," and he is "very confident there's going to be some money on the table."

"At this point, it's a question of how much," he said. "So we're going to continue to work with our counterparts in Ottawa and I can tell you that MP Wayne Long is a strong advocate."

No total estimate for the project has been provided.

Tanya Greer, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said it would be premature to speculate on the overall project cost, as design work is just getting underway.

The province is still working with the city to determine the final purchase price, she said.

It's unclear whether the real estate deal is part of the $50 million the provincial government already pledged to the project last October.

Gallant did not say how much the province is seeking from the federal government. He did, however, indicate "some potential third-party support."

Shannon Merrifield, chair of the board of directors of the museum, said a major fundraising campaign will be launched later this year, through the New Brunswick Museum Foundation.

"There is a lot to do. However, we will continue to move forward," she said.

Merrifield described the site announcement as a "huge step toward a much-needed new museum facility" and a "gold medal day for Saint John and New Brunswick."

The Coast Guard site, in the heart of historic uptown Saint John is "ideal," she said.

"The energy of the uptown and the excitement of experiencing our natural history and human heritage in a new museum facility will feed off each other, increasing cultural tourism and commercial activity."

Opening likely years away

Museum CEO Bill Hicks agreed it will be a "pretty special place."

He could not say how much money the campaign will need to raise, but he expects the location announcement and previous provincial funding commitment will help move the project along.

Asked how soon the new museum might open, Hicks replied, "Frankly we're a couple years down the road, no question."

The province has previously said it hopes construction could begin by this spring.

There is no word on what will happen with the museum's 83-year-old building on Douglas Avenue. But Hicks said it's a "hugely important heritage building" and he expects the province will work to identify sustainable uses for it to ensure it continues to be part of the "fabric of the city."

The Market Square location, which opened in 1996, is a leased space.

Numerous other developments have been proposed for the former Coast Guard site over the past 13-plus years, but none have proceeded.

Most recently, Moosehead Breweries announced in January 2017 it was cancelling its plans for a small-batch brewery for the site.

To all the 'naysayers'

Mayor Don Darling said he was shocked to hear there have been about 30 consultations about the site over the past 20 or 30 years.

But he confronted "all the naysayers, critics and self-interested attackers" head on.

"We're moving this project forward," one step at a time, he said, offering congratulations to all the "dreamers" and "tenacious" volunteer board of directors members and staff.

Darling said he's optimistic construction of a new "iconic" public building on the waterfront will leverage further private sector investments for residential and mixed uses on the remainder of the Costa Guard site, as well as other uptown areas.

"This project will continue the momentum of investment and renewal currently underway in our city's core," he said.

The New Brunswick Museum attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year, between its two properties, according to the province.

"Your government recognizes the important role that the New Brunswick Museum plays in our cultural community and to the tourism industry, both in Saint John and across the province," the premier said Thursday.

"By investing in this cultural infrastructure we are stimulating economic growth, supporting the uptown core of Saint John, and improving the experience for tourists to our province."

Visitor spending in New Brunswick is estimated at $1.3 billion every year, making it the third largest service sector in the province, Gallant said.