Sep 26 2020

OPINION: Arts Center Proposed 10 Year Extension of City Lease Needs Public Input


In 2011, the Piedmont Center for the Arts, Inc. (PCA), formed by Piedmont volunteers, proposed to host community art events in an unused City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue. The City of Piedmont supported that mission, subsidizing PCA with a 10-year lease at $1/year in exchange for PCA performing some renovation work and to further community use of the building. PCA has managed the West Wing of 801 Magnolia for the last nine years, renting it out for various arts-related events.

[Editors Note:  Since 1986, the Piedmont Civic Association has been known as PCA.   The PCA references in this article refer to the Piedmont Center for the Arts.  The two organizations are separate.]

PCA now is seeking a 10-year extension of its lease, even though the lease does not expire until June 3, 2021. While PCA has performed a public service by hosting art events, before any lease renewal, the City needs to take time to carefully assess its own needs for building space, the extent of the City’s subsidy to PCA and whether that subsidy efficiently supports arts in Piedmont, and whether community uses of 801 Magnolia should be limited solely to arts.

The City should consider, based on input from its departments and the public, the following:

(1) Will the City need the 801 Magnolia space to facilitate any infrastructure improvements, including relocation of services?  Numerous City buildings require renovation or reconstruction, and services will need to be relocated. Is 801 Magnolia Ave. one potential location? Given that PCA’s lease already runs to June 2021, there is time to figure this out.

(2) Does the City need additional space to provide services regardless of infrastructure improvements? Would the City offer more programs if it had available space?

(3) Given the City’s need for revenue to fill a hole in maintenance funding, the City or a Committee should consider at least: (a) what is the market rental value of 801 Magnolia, as the City changed the zoning code to allow for-profit entities in City-owned buildings; and (b) what revenue could the City earn if it rented out the facility for events when not needed for City use, perhaps subsidizing arts and other community events with lower rental rates? The
differential between such revenue and PCA’s rent (currently $1/year) is the City subsidy to PCA.

(4) If the facility is to be leased to a third party, for what purposes and on what terms?  In 2011, the City Council provided the building rent-free so that, as the Lease says: ““Tenant will use the Premises for the purpose of operating a venue for exhibits, performances, concerts, and other similar events or activities for the benefit of the local community.”  PCA, however, has limited such uses to “arts-related” events. Review of pre-pandemic event calendars on the PCA website shows the space is used quite a bit, but there also are a considerable number of open days and hours within days. Whether there are Piedmont residents (or even City departments) who would like to use the facility on those days, or during those hours, for non-arts-related events is not known. Thus far, the City has not sought public comment on expanding use of 801 Magnolia.

(5) The City Council should be fully informed about not only the extent of the City’s subsidy of PCA (the differential between market rent and PCA’s rent), but also whether PCA is passing such savings along to the persons and groups presenting events at 801 Magnolia. PCA does not post the hourly rental rates it charges to hold an event at 801 Magnolia. If the City’s intent is to subsidize community uses of 801 Magnolia, then PCA’s revenues should roughly equal the cost of operating the facility. Even then, the City should consider whether its own staff, who already manage rentals of other City facilities such as Community Hall, could manage 801 Magnolia at less cost. If the City wishes to obtain revenue from renting 801 Magnolia at a rate greater than its operating costs, it again may sense for City staff to handle facility rentals.

Notwithstanding the City’s need to fund significant infrastructure improvements, the City Council may decide that it wishes to continue to subsidize arts in Piedmont. If so, however, I hope the City will seek and consider public input on how best to support arts and other community events in Piedmont.

Rick Raushenbush, Former School Board Member

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

6 Responses to “OPINION: Arts Center Proposed 10 Year Extension of City Lease Needs Public Input”

  1. Rick Raushenbush raises good points concerning PCA’s lease renewal request. What is the market rate of the entire space were the city to lease for profit? What is the market rate of the office space leased out by PCA to various entities at times?

    The 2018 form 990 shows PCA with $179,220 in cash & savings (line 22b) and $1,980 in liabilities. Why is a publicly subsidized non-profit sitting on cash?

    Tim Rood and others in 2011 asked that time be donated to the School district to support Piedmont youth. This was not done.

  2. Very compelling questions that should be presented to the community, discussed at Council with subsequent directions to Staff to report back. Fortunately there is sufficient time to do this – the lease does not expire for 10 months. Can anyone suggest a compelling reason to proceed with lease renewal now?

    A lot has changed over the past 10 years that should warrant a discussion of what is the best use of 801. The zoning of the building has changed to allow for-profit activities. More commercial activity in the Civic Center has been a long standing need Identified in community surveys. Major construction is proposed for the Civic Center. The city has hired a a half-time facilities rental coordinator who can manage use of the facility. Council really has an obligation to undertake a comprehensive and transparent review of how 801 can be best used by the community, good work by PCA notwithstanding.

  3. I don’t doubt that we could squeeze a few more dollars out of the PCA building if we leased it out to, yet another bank, yet another Wealth~Management Scheme Factory, Tax Loophole Specialists, yet another office full of Real Estate Facilitators, or possibly a 24~7 McDonald’s. There are 14,146 McDonald’s restaurants in American cities and not one in Piedmont. Are Piedmont children deprived?
    No, they would be if we did not have the PCA, the cultural gem in Piedmont’s crown, representing the artistic contributions of all groups to our diverse residents of all ages who cherish music, art and theatre.
    Sunny Bostrom~Fleming

  4. I am a big believer in the critical role of arts in our communities, and have enjoyed many events at the PCA, as well as the work of many talented local artists. That said, I fully agree with Rick’s points that a robust community discussion should take place prior to any lease renewal, to flesh out many of the issues he has raised. I also wonder if more diverse arts programming might be required by the City, to more fully represent and engage a broader range of aesthetic preferences and talents in our community, and to more directly carry out a publicly-mediated (rather than privately managed) arts agenda.

  5. The programming that the PCA coordinates is nice, but also does not represent the artistic aesthetics, tastes, talents and interests of our entire community (especially in regards to more diverse voices). I too agree with Rick’s points that a community discussion should take place before lease renewal. Perhaps we could have a more open discussion with the community, calling in more diverse voices to share what they would like to see in this space as far as arts and performance? Uses of the space?

  6. 2013 990 line 22(b) cash for PCA is $30,345. 2018 cash is $179,229 which is a 50% annual increase. Is the Art Center making access to space for art displays for Piedmonters overly costly by excessive charges and pocketing the difference? Piedmonters paid for the building. Is the Art Center actually operating as a non-profit?

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