Nonprofit Art Museum Voices Opinion, Building Owner Raises Rent


A car-turned-planter sits in the courtyard outside the entrance to the Santa Monica Museum of Art (Photo by Jason Islas)
A car-turned-planter sits in the courtyard outside the entrance to the Santa Monica Museum of Art (Photo by Jason Islas)

The most recent casualty of the ongoing – and largely manufactured – controversy over plans to invest millions of private dollars into the Bergamot Station Arts Center on six acres of City-owned land, could be the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

The nonprofit museum, which is free to the public, saw its rent triple after its staff voiced an opinion contrary to the one held by the owner of the building, which the museum currently calls home.

SMMoA has joined respected arts activist Bruria Finkel in support of plans to transform Bergamot Station, now a cluster of about three dozen commercial galleries and a surface parking lot, into a much more accessible regional arts hub, with a larger museum, public open space, a small hotel, and other amenities.

With an Expo light rail station opening in about 18 months at the northwest corner of Bergamot Station Arts Center, the City is currently in the process of choosing one of three developer teams for the delicate task of overhauling the center without losing the galleries.

The project would add some non-arts commercial uses, including a boutique hotel and some office space. Proponents of the project want the hotel and other commercial uses because revenue from those rents would be used to subsidize the rents for the galleries and nonprofits like the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which, in addition to hosting free art exhibitions, puts on programs for neighborhood school kids throughout the year.

About two-thirds into a story published yesterday, the L.A. Times dropped this bomb:

“[I]nstead of the prospect of brilliant new digs, the Santa Monica Museum of Art now faces a threat that could open a big hole in its budget. It’s part of the privately owned portion of Bergamot Station, and landlord Wayne Blank says he is tripling its rent in response to what he considers its disruptive and unneighborly vision for Bergamot Station.”

Blank, it seems, hopes to run his tenant out of his building because the people who run the free, nonprofit community museum disagree with him.

He has joined the chorus of anti-development activists who have been stoking the fears of local gallery owners, claiming that if any changes were made to the property, it would mean certain doom for the Bergamot Arts Center (despite explicit instructions from the City to all of the development teams to assure 100 percent retention of current tenants).

The article also pointed out that Blank had been a member of one of the three developer teams biding to lead the redevelopment project. Blank dropped out after staff recommended the City Council go with the proposal by developer 26Street TOD over the vision presented by the team Blank was apart of.

“Until a few weeks ago, Blank was a partner in one of the development teams. He said he resigned from it so he could be free to speak his mind against any plan that would fundamentally alter Bergamot Station’s character. Blank insisted that imposing the rent increase on the museum and aiming to torpedo the 26Street plan was a matter of principle, not sour grapes over his development team’s $80-million plan not being recommended by the city staff.”

We thought the L.A. Times headline, “Bergamot Station’s tenants at odds over its future as Expo Line nears,” buried the lede.

Here are few alternatives: “Landowner Saves Arts Center by Starving Free Art Musuem;” “Bergamot Station 2: Blank’s Revenge;” “Area Property Owner Demands Higher Rent to Maximize Profit;” “Community Art Museum Evicted for Challenging Landowner’s Opinion;” or “Landowner Sticks to Principles by Raising Rent on Free Art Museum.”

Jason Islas
Jason Islas
Jason Islas is the editor of Santa Monica Next and the director of the Vote Local Campaign. Before joining Next in May 2014, Jason had covered land use, transit, politics and breaking news for The Lookout, the city’s oldest news website, since February 2011.


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