Commentary | Public input needed on extension of arts center lease

Julie Reichle

The Piedmont Center for the Arts on Magnolia Ave.

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.  

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. 
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 

3 thoughts on “Commentary | Public input needed on extension of arts center lease

  1. The Art Center 2018 form 990 shows net assets of $336,681 (line 26) and this includes $179,229 in cash, savings and investments (line 22). In 2013 net assets were $47,423 so he Art Center is growing their assets at an unprecedented rate. In 2011 several residents including now Councilman Tim Rood recommended 750 hours annually of free time be set aside to promote Piedmont youth art endeavors. A primary purpose of creating the resident subsidized non-profit Art Center is “to promote artistic endeavors for youth within the Piedmont community.” This was never done and the assets continue to grow. Is the Art Center in fact serving the community as an actual non-profit?

    As both Rick R. and Garrett recommend, a community wide discussion is appropriate in place of a single Council meeting where staff recommends and Council approves a 10 year lease.

  2. I could not agree more with Mr. Keating, thank you for your consideration to make this a very public, thoughtful community discussion over a longer period of time.

  3. It’s noteworthy to contrast the 801 lease renewal with the public process that was conducted for the pool. For the current pool proposal, multiple meetings at the Recreatiom Commission, a task force that held multiple meetings with stakeholders, a community survey about a new pool and multiple discussions at Council were held over the course of two years. As 801 is a similar community asset, why would Council not consider a similar process? When the idea of leasing the 801 building to community groups was first proposed 10 years ago, the city solicited ideas from the residents. As renewal of the lease had not been agendized in the recent past, support for its renewal must be coming from city staff. Council has the obligation to see that a community discussion be held on 810 before considering lease renewal. Fortunately there is time to do so.

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