Dec 7 2017

OPINION: Piedmont Post Rental of Arts Center Space

Piedmont Center for the Arts Application for Conditional Use Permit – 

The recent posting by Garrett Keating contains several inaccuracies which I would like to correct.  The most important one is the fact that The Piedmont Center For The Arts, Inc. has applied to the City of Piedmont for a Conditional Use Permit to allow THE CENTER to sub-lease space to a commercial sub-tenant. Garrett has represented that The Piedmont Post has applied for this Conditional Use Permit and would become a “tenant” of the City in a City-owned building.  In truth, it is The Piedmont Center, which has a right to sub-lease some of its space to a tenant of its choosing, that has applied to the City for a permit, in accordance with the new zoning laws requiring this procedure.

Garrett also represents that Gray Cathrall, Editor of The Piedmont Post, is on the Board of The Piedmont Center.  This is untrue.  Gray was termed out and resigned from the Board last summer.  He was a major contributor to the formation and ongoing publicity needs of The Center.

The Piedmont Center For The Arts has a lease with the City of Piedmont covering a portion of the space in the building at 801 Magnolia.   The initial lease was effective on May 2, 2011 and it has been amended several times.  The original lease DID restrict any sub-tenants to non-profit entities.  In the Lease Amendment effective August 31, 2016, that restriction was removed by amending the Lease to allow The Center to rent to any tenant in accordance with Piedmont’s zoning law.

Why does The Piedmont Center need a tenant?  A good question to consider and the answer is simply money!  In the original business plan for The Center, the opportunity for rental income from the old Christian Science Reading Rooms was intended as a cash flow which would subsidize all of the arts activities.  It was intended to pay all of the overhead and maintenance costs plus a little extra for unforeseen expenses and upgrades.

For the bulk of our tenancy, the Bay Area Children’s Theatre rented our extra space.  They were an ideal fit as a sub-tenant because The Center has to have some partial use of these rented rooms & BACT was a very compatible and easy-going group.  The extra space at The Center can only be rented as a “shared space” with no exclusive access by either party.  During the year, The Center uses those back rooms as the “Green Room” for all theatre productions (make-up, costumes, changing rooms, entrances & exits), the on-going artists’ exhibitors use these rooms to store their wrappings, all Center users utilize the smaller back room for their catering needs, and musicians use them to store their clothing & instrument cases.

Bay Area Children’s Theatre moved out of the building last summer (when they were able to rent an entire vacant church in Montclair) and we have been trying to find a tenant(s) ever since.  The problem is that they all want exclusive use, locked doors, a separate alarm system and no use by The Piedmont Center for its programs.

In order for The Piedmont Center to be able to sub-lease even shared space to a commercial tenant, The Center has to obtain a Conditional Use Permit.  The Board realized that The Piedmont Post office would be a sub-tenant who would not increase congestion, noise or parking around our building and they are willing to lease on a “shared space” basis at top dollar.  That was the kind of sub-tenancy we were looking for.

Nancy Lehrkind, Vice President
The Piedmont Center For The Arts

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

3 Responses to “OPINION: Piedmont Post Rental of Arts Center Space”

  1. Nancy, Could you and the Board not find a non-political, non-controversial tenant? All newspapers have an editorial bias and in terms of important issues in Piedmont such as Taxes, Bond Measures, Blair Park conversion and School District examination, the Piedmont Post has proven repeatedly that its “news” on these important civic issues are editorial pieces with a strong bias. Hand in hand with this practice is the Post’s practice of not publishing letters from residents who oppose its viewpoint.

    As Kevin Jackson stated July 11, 2016 at the Planning Commission meeting, the City is the landlord. The City owns 801 Magnolia and the Piedmont Center for the Arts is subsidized by taxpayer funds. The Art and Culture your Board provides is truly community serving. The same cannot be said for the Piedmont Post unless it agrees to provide equal time. Will you speak to its Publisher about this?

  2. Thanks Nancy. Just before posting I went to the Arts Center website and saw Gray listed as a Board member. Regarding the lease and permit application, you are correct, the Center is the lessor and the applicant but I think that still makes the Post a tenant in a tax-payer subsidized space. The lease change seems to have been before the code change, but there may be legal reasons for that. Everyone appreciates the good work done by Piedmont Center for the Arts, so now that more potential renters are aware of the Center’s sub-lease requirements more will come forward. Regarding congestion, the whole foundation for the adoption of the multi-use zones and private business use of public space is based on a community survey that showed Piedmonters wanted more services in town they could walk to. Adding pedestrian traffic to that area is the goal of the General Plan.

  3. I would like to comment on the argument that the city is subsidizing the Piedmont Center for the Arts. The City of Piedmont purchased the building at 801 Magnolia in 2003 and did NOTHING with it for 7 years while it sat vacant and dilapidating. In exchange for a 10-year lease with the City for $1 a year, Nancy Lehrkind agreed to raise all of the money to rehabilitate the building, including bringing it up to code, replacing the roof and windows, and organizing volunteers who put countless hours of sweat equity into that building. It had serious deferred maintenance – how quickly we all forget! In fact, the city was going to tear it down. Nancy raised $80,000 to bring that building into working order. At that time, the city did not have the money to fix it. If anything, we taxpayers should be mad at the city for letting that building sit vacant without any benefit to the community for 7 years!

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