Councillors will consider spending $7 million on the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia as part of their 2021-2022 budget deliberations.
Halifax regional council’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee asked for a staff report on Tuesday on the request from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) — equal to a little more than 5% of the total capital cost of $130 million for the new gallery, located in the Salter block on the Halifax waterfront.
AGNS announced the winning design concept for the new gallery, by Toronto-based KPMB Architects, with Omar Gandhi Architect, Jordan Bennett Studio, Elder Lorraine Whitman, Public Work and Transsolar, in November.
It’s expected to cost $97 million to build the gallery, with another $30 million in consulting, project management, testing, and inspection costs and $3 million in moving costs.
The provincial government is paying $70 million, the federal government has agreed to put in $30 million, and AGNS received a $10 million donation from the Sobey Foundation. Another $7 million from HRM would leave AGNS to fundraise the remaining $13 million for construction, but it’s trying to raise a total of $40 million, including the Sobey donation, to also boost the collection after the new gallery is complete.
During the Audit and Finance Standing Committee meeting on Tuesday, AGNS director and CEO Nancy Noble made the official request from the municipality, arguing the project aligns with council’s priorities.
“We want to build a new waterfront gallery to improve access to art and boost economic development and tourism,” Noble said.
“We’re going to expand our programs, our exhibitions and collections.”
Mayor Mike Savage asked whether AGNS would be able to make it work without a contribution from HRM.
“It will be a lot more difficult for us to raise the full amount if we don’t have some contribution from the city,” Noble said.
“It’s a very difficult time and I recognize that, but it’s also made our job difficult too because raising money isn’t as easy as it was 18 months ago. It is integral, it absolutely is integral.”
Savage said he was open to the capital funding request, but he’s not willing to pay for any operating costs.
“I’m certainly interested in considering what we’re being asked for, which is a contribution to capital, considering it’s a difficult time and it’s a significant ask. It’s kind of the largest I’ve ever seen, but I’m prepared to consider that,” he said.
The request is for $7 million spread over five years — $1.4 million per year. Council could choose to pay in a lump sum from one of its reserve accounts.
“It’s not baked into the budget,” chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told the committee.
Dubé said the contribution is not included in any of the municipality’s financial projections, and it will be presented during the budget process as an additional item.
“Certainly, we have not booked the capacity for this,” he said.
Council will also have to make decision about Salter Street. The municipally owned street extends past Lower Water Street toward the waterfront, next to the Salter block. Dubé said the municipality agreed the street could be considered part of the gallery land for the purpose of the design, but it hasn’t agreed to sell or grant it to AGNS or the province yet.
Dubé said the staff report — including sources of funding for the $7 million, and information on the street and any other potential financial effects for the municipality — will come to council’s budget committee during its debate on the 2021-2022 budget.
Councillors voted last week to move ahead with a budget built around a 1.9% increase to the average property tax bill.