The Art Gallery of Hamilton expansion is a nice idea, but city taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund it on their tax bills.

That was the attitude of some councillors at a council meeting Wednesday. They voted to endorse the AGH’s $30-million expansion project, but modified it to stress that the city won’t give any money to it “at this time.”

Coun. Judi Partridge of Flamborough says her constituents worry they’ll have to pay for part of the project.

“I just need some reassurances for my residents that that’s not what we’re doing,” the Ward 15 councillor said. “We’re not making a multi-million-dollar contribution to the art gallery.”

The gallery approached the city earlier this month asking for the city’s endorsement of a sweeping renovation. It would include a grand Main Street entrance, a sculpture garden and more exhibition space.

Executive director Louise Dompierre said the gallery aims to fundraise $30 million over two years. The result will help revitalize downtown Hamilton and provide more exhibition space for the gallery’s extensive collection.

Some councillors said Wednesday that they like the idea, but when it comes to financing it, they don’t want to be on the hook.

Coun. Terry Whitehead even voted against part of the motion, wanting to make sure it doesn’t cost the city any money.

The AGH last expanded 10 years ago, and the gallery’s operating budget expanded too, Whitehead said. And so did the city’s contribution to that budget.

“I love the concept,” he said. “But don’t go there presuming if you don’t have the operating dollars that you can come back to the city and we’ll bail you out.”

The motion, moved by Coun. Brian McHattie, also asks for a report from a structural engineer on the feasibility of building on top of the municipal parking garage.

Maria Pearson, councillor for Ward 10, is the city’s representative on the AGH board. She’s enthusiastic about the project.

“(The gallery) will continue to work in step with the city on this project, which they have done in the past with the previous expansion,” she said.

Pearson reiterated that “all the art gallery is requesting is the opportunity to begin fundraising.”

Plans for the expansion include:

  • A new wing that will provide a new entrance from Main Street.
  • Three new studios.
  • Re-organizing the ground floor to give better access to the galleries and studios.
  • Relocating the cafe so it faces the sculpture garden.
  • Expanding gallery space on the second floor to display more of the permanent collection.
  • New office spaces to accommodate a growing number of staff.