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Mayor floats new site for old museum

Florence Petersen Park suggested after Committee of the Whole meeting



Is Lot 21 the answer to the Whistler Museum's hope for a permanent home?

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden thinks it could be.

After hearing all the reasons why Whistler Olympic Plaza is the preferred site for a new museum at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting, the municipality has come up with an off-the-cuff solution that could be the long-awaited answer to problem of what to do with the Whistler Museum.

"After the presentation, I had a bit of an epiphany, with the assistance of some of the others on staff and I think this might be the site," said the mayor, pointing to Lot 21 on a site plan after Tuesday's council meeting.

Lot 21 sits directly east of the museum, fronting Main Street, and is now called Florence Petersen Park, named after one of the museum's founding members, and only recently created under direction from the previous council at a cost of $65,000.

Wilhelm-Morden outlined the site's immediate merits, in the absence of a detailed study.

"The museum could stay where it is during construction; we own all the property around it... It doesn't impede site lines for the library," explained Wilhelm-Morden.

She followed her "epiphany" with an email to the museum board asking: "Why don't you look at Lot 21?"

The suggestion comes on the heels of a presentation from planner Crosland Doak, who was recently hired by the museum's board to identify and compare sites that may potentially accommodate a new facility, one in which the museum can display more than five per cent of its collection as is now the case, and one which could provide a lasting home for Whistler's history.

Doak examined three sites:

• redevelopment on the current museum site;

• leasing the underground space at the Larco building; and

• on the edge of Whistler Olympic Plaza, behind the health care centre.

 "At this point in our study, the Olympic plaza site is a pretty attractive site," said Doak.

Each site has pros and cons.

The existing museum is about 50 per cent too small and would require trespassing into park space. It is also hidden behind the library with no street frontage. Any development there could impact views from the library and construction would mean the museum would need to relocate or pack up temporary.

The Larco site, on the other hand, is below Earls and Starbucks, behind Village 8 Cinemas. While it, too, has poor prominence and accessibility, it's big enough to accommodate the museum with some room to grow in the future.

Of concern, however, is the archival quality of the space, given it's below ground. Dampness could affect the artifacts.

And so, from that Doak examined a site at the edge of Whistler Olympic Plaza, close to an area once identified as a potential spot for the museum.

Doak suggested moving the building closer to the Whistler Health Care Centre, effectively blocking the pedestrian access to Blackcomb Way, which is now off limits due to the helipad upgrade.

This site is in a prominent location and would have minimal impact on the forest.

The downside is the potential building costs, listed as "moderate to high."

After his presentation, Doak handed over a Clif bar and a bottle of water to the mayor, joking that the site of the new Audain Art Museum in the Day Lots, was agreed upon over a sandwich.

His offering drew a laugh from the council table, and a commitment to take the report to staff for more discussion.

"Although there was some linkages today to the Audain Art Museum project, this is quite substantially different because of course Mr. Audain was standing there with his chequebook saying his foundation... was funding the development of the project," said the mayor later.

"The museum will be looking at a significant fundraising effort, among other things, to get this project off the ground."

Questions abound at this early stage: is the municipality willing to make a site available to the museum? At what cost? Is Lot 21 a feasible option?

As the mayor said at the Committee of the Whole meeting, in which museum board members were in attendance: "I don't think it's a secret to say we'd like to see something happen. We're going to have to have some internal discussions."