Gallery officials say its existing site is too small to house its expanding art collection and renovations would be too costly.
Instead, the VAG wants the city to give it a 1.2-hectare plot that is the former site of a bus depot, next to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Board chair David Aisenstat, aware of the need for public support, made a pitch for the property Wednesday to Vancouver's Board of Trade.
"It is a city-owned site and it is valuable, but if the city owns it they're not a corporation like Polygon, who would build homes on it, or The Keg, who'll build a restaurant," he said.
"That's our land — the people's land — and I can't think of a better use of the land than a place that, for generations, will be a gathering place. From that point of view, I think it's the best use for that site."
Province chips inAisenstat said the VAG has persuaded the province to donate $50 million toward a new gallery and hopes to attract some federal cash too.
Michael Audain, a businessman and art lover, is solidly behind the proposal and says private donors have pledged $40 million. But much of the planning for the project is on hold until the city decides on the site.
"At this point, our focus has to be on getting the site confirmed," Aisenstat told CBC News. "Until then, we can't get an architect, fundraise. We can't do all the things that need to be done."
City staff say they've yet to receive any kind of official proposal on which to make a decision.
There has been vocal criticism from local architects and art lovers who say the gallery should stay where it is and renovate.
Coun. Suzanne Anton supports the VAG proposal, saying: "To have great culture in your city, it's good for people who live here. It's good for business." But, she added, the gallery may also need to accept that it may not get all the land.
The total cost of a new art gallery is expected to be $300 million to $350 million, VAG officials revealed. But there is no design proposal because the gallery doesn't know where it will build.
VAG director Kathleen Bartels highlighted some of the difficulties the gallery has now, with such limited space. On a typical day, workers preparing for new exhibitions have to work right in the middle of visitors enjoying the work of Leonardo da Vinci, she said.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the gallery to design and construct a landmark building that will have a lasting legacy for British Columbia," Bartels said.