File photo Co-op land in 2016.

Much work ahead for downtown museum location

Environmental remediation of the site needed first

Land offered by the City of Terrace to the Terrace and District Museum Society for a downtown museum building still needs an environmental green light for any future development because of a gasbar located there years ago.

And the museum society still has to determine how much of the property it actually needs, located on the eastern edge of the former Terrace Co-op shopping centre location along Greig Ave.

For now the museum society has accepted the city’s offer of half an acre, says society curator Lane McGarrity, with the next step being to undertake a building feasibility study.

That half an acre is contained within two parcels amounting to approximately 1.4 acres facing Kalum St., across from the Terrace Best Western, and both are zoned for cultural uses.

“What size, parking, all that needs to be determined. We’re not going to be breaking ground anytime soon,” said McGarrity.

City of Terrace official Danielle Myles agreed. “We have not begun negotiations with the museum society yet, so cannot comment on the exact location or size of the property for a potential future museum,” she said.

She and McGarrity acknowledged the need for environmental remediation of the property termed a “brownfield” site because of its past use as a gasbar tied to the Terrace Co-op shopping centre once located there.

“Regarding remediation, we have not determined steps forward in that regard and this would be part of what we would consider as we clarify development plans for the site,” said Myles.

“This eastern lot has (C7, downtown cultural zoning) and is well-suited as a museum site.”

Myles said the city did reach out more than a year ago to establish a list of qualified contractors to complete environmental work on the two lots, anticipating that any future development may require clearance from the provincial environment ministry.

McGarrity said the museum society would be working closely with the city and could apply for grants to help with any remediation costs.

A downtown museum building has long been sought by the museum society to properly house and preserve documents and photographs and other material subject to decay. Its log-building structures at its Heritage Park location on the bench aren’t suitable for that purpose, said McGarrity.

“We really don’t have a proper archive space at Heritage Park. That’s a prime concern for us,” he said.

Lack of archival space to properly house, catalogue and preserve material has made people reluctant to donate material in the past, McGarrity added.

“We’ve been considering renting space in a building downtown,” he added of an interim measure.

And as the museum society and the city ponder future uses for the parcel, the provisional sale of the larger portion of the Co-op site running west along Greig to Emerson remains in limbo.

That larger section is just under three acres and was provisionally sold to Calgary-based hotelier Superior Lodging in 2013 for $877,500 with one of the sale closing provisions being the city obtaining an environmental compliance certificate from the provincial environment ministry.

Since then the city has spent approximately $450,000 of its own money and in brownfield remediation grants from senior governments to get the green light to close the sale. It’s been anticipating receiving that certificate for several years now.

“We have not heard back from the province but understand they have a lot of applications to process right now,” said Myles.

The smaller parcel being offered to the museum society was carved off from the larger one wanted by Superior because it was considered in more need of remediation.

The 2013 deal with Superior came at a time when the Rio Tinto Kitimat aluminum smelter rebuild and construction of BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line were at their peak.

With the economic boost of the time, Superior announced initial plans for a 100-room hotel complete with meeting rooms, an indoor pool, waterslide and fitness centre.

City officials in 2013 said the Superior sales deal fit with its vision of developing the Co-op property as a cornerstone to a revitalized downtown.

It’s a vision the city developed in late 2005 when, in a move controversial at the time, it borrowed $1 million from its reserves – repaid from tax monies at $100,000 a year – to purchase the property from a private developer who, in turn, had bought the property following the Co-op shopping centre’s closure. Various proposals were considered and rejected to renovate the shopping complex before the city decided to demolish the structure in the hopes that a cleared piece of property would better entice a development of some kind.

The city was successful, however, in selling a small portion of the Co-op location on the western end at Emerson to a local group who had plans for a brewpub and live entertainment venue. Those plans have yet to materialize.

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