Library move partly a business decision: mayor

The city's decision to buy the Art Gallery of Windsor and move the Windsor Public Library into the building was a business one, says the mayor.

Mayor Eddie Francis admits business opportunity forced council to buy gallery, move library

The city's decision to buy the Art Gallery of Windsor and move the Windsor Public Library's central branch into the building was a business one, says the mayor.

"This is not something that just came together as a result of us waking up saying we should do this," Windsor mayor Eddie Francis said Friday at a media conference staged at the gallery. "This came together as a result of an economic investment knocking on our door. An economic opportunity that required city council and the community to move quickly to secure and save jobs."

Francis said the city needed to provide a company "a large facility in our downtown core."

Francis told CBC News in October he had met with officials from Global Sutherland, a customer call centre.

Francis wouldn't divulge the nature of the talks at the time. But sources said Global Sutherland wants to consolidate its west-end and downtown operations into one site but needs approximately 100,000 square feet of space to do so.

Library CEO Barry Holmes said the downtown branch was built 40 years ago to warehouse books. Given technological advances, he says the branch no longer need that much space.

Francis said the city initially approached the art gallery and asked it to temporarily house the library as a short-term solution to the economic investment. But as talks progressed, the move became permanent.

Council unanimously agreed in principle Thursday to buy the gallery and move the library.

Library and gallery officials praise the decision.

"For us, libraries are changing very much, they’re evolving," he said. "It was about the location and where we need to be."

"We have a lot to look forward to. It is a road map to a model of sustainability," the gallery's director Catharine Mastin said.

The gallery sees approximately 80,000 visitors each year; the library roughly 800,000. It's expected the relocation will see 1 million people come through the building on Riverside Drive each year.

Francis said the building is projected to have more visitors in its first year of joint operation  than it did in the previous 10 as a stand alone art gallery.

Cultural hub

The move means the new aquatic centre, to be constructed beside the gallery, will not house the library as originally planned.

"It is the beginning of us seeing a new cultural and recreational hub in this district," Mastin said.

"This is where the centre of the action is going to be," library chair and Ward 10 councillor Al Maghnieh said.

Maghnieh hinted that a museum may be next in line for the downtown district.

"We’ve now developed that sense of place that for [a] long [time] people of the city struggled trying to achieve," Francis said. "We’re doers. We get things done."