Museum seeks private partners for underground garage

The Canadian Museum of Nature is looking for private developers to build an underground parking garage at its McLeod Street site, which has left some Centretown residents hopeful that the green space on the museum’s west side will be preserved.  

Last year, the museum created 110 temporary parking spaces on its west lawn to accommodate the growing number of visitors.

The museum has said it plans to create permanent parking on the west side and maximize its green space.

However, the museum is on federal land, which means any changes to the property need to be approved by the National Capital Commission.

Fred Gaspar, the commission’s director of federal transportation coordination and federal approvals, responded by email, saying: “The current proposal (for more surface parking) doesn’t reflect the approved Museum Master Plan for the site that includes green space and a long-term parking solution underground.”

Meg Beckel, the museum’s president, says the commission is asking the museum to look for private developers to fund and build an underground parking garage.

 However, attracting private developers is not so easy, she notes.

“Based on the parking traffic we get,” she says, “investing in underground parking at a cost of $10 million makes us unable to afford to pay off the loan over the prescribed period of time.”

She says the museum currently makes $650,000 each year on parking, adding, “we don’t see the business case” for an underground garage.

However, Centretown resident Roshell Bissett says she was happy the NCC is asking the museum to look into underground parking.

"I’m glad the NCC is standing by their commitment to green space and that hopefully we’ll have something done to prevent the (surface) parking.”

Bissett says the museum’s west side lawn is important to Centretown residents.

“The museum is surrounded by condos, affordable housing and daycares, so there is a real need for a collective gathering space where people can take a break from the city.”

Bissett says for 100 years the area was a heritage park, and an agreement had been made that after the museum’s renovations finished in 2010, the museum would restore the park.

Instead, she claims, the museum broke its promise when it created temporary parking instead. “We feel that’s a betrayal,” she says.

However, Beckel says the museum is currently using less green space for parking than it has in the last 100 years.

At the moment, the NCC has not made any final decisions about where to put the permanent parking garage.

Gaspar says the NCC “has had preliminary discussions with the museum to discuss the proposal, and we will continue to engage proactively with them with regards to their short-term challenges.”

Bissett says the fact the NCC has asked the museum to look for private developers for the underground parking garage is a step forward in preventing the above ground parking garage.