Founder of Homestead Land Holdings and philanthropist Britton Smith has opened up about why he donated several million dollars to the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes so it could purchase the dry dock at 55 Ontario St.
Smith told Global News in a phone interview on Friday that as a former board member of the Marine Museum, he wanted to see it back at its original Ontario Street location, closer to downtown.
“I wanted to keep it going at that location because it’s a valuable asset to attract tourists,” Smith said.
The 98-year-old entrepreneur said that when the federal government was selling the property in late 2015, he offered $175,000 for it.
He was outbid by local developer Jay Patry, who put in the winning bid of $3.2 million.
When Patry bought the site, he and the Marine Museum board could not come to terms on a lease for the museum building, which forced it to relocate to Portsmouth Olympic Harbour.
Patry had planned to build a high-rise condominium on the site, but the proposal was not well received by residents in the area.
He put the property up for sale in February.
In July, Patry agreed to a sale price that Smith said “is close to (Patry’s) $3.2 million.”
“He didn’t lose very much. I pretty much bailed him out,” Smith said. “I think he was happy to get out.”
Since the Marine Museum building became vacant almost three years ago, it has been the target of vandals and thieves.
Smith said someone got in and stole all the copper wiring — damage that will need to be repaired before the museum’s artifacts can be moved back in.
Museum board chair Chris West said an assessment of the damage has just gotten underway and he’s unsure how much money it will cost to bring the building back to life. He added that there is much more to do.
“There’s going to have to be a careful calculation and we may need to ask the city for permission to replace some of the structures on the property,” West said in a phone interview.
He said the limestone structures at the lakefront side of the building will definitely remain because of their heritage value, but other parts of the facility could be replaced.
“We have to look at the cost of restoring and replacing,” said West. “Whatever we do, it will involve a large capital campaign.”
West said there isn’t a firm timeline in place to reopen the museum at the Ontario Street location, but he hopes to have some part of it ready for summer 2020.