The City Council needs to reject the proposed lease at 801 Magnolia Ave to the Piedmont Center for the Arts and take the time to rethink who gets access to this publicly-owned space. Ten years ago the city agreed to a 10-year lease at $1 a year because the PCA took on the task of renovating the space in order to provide community arts programming, and they created a lovely space. In the past few years, however, the mission of the PCA has changed, the use of the building has shifted, and the city-owned venue is not accessible to or serving a majority of residents.
In the new lease the PCA pays $1 to the city but then rents the internal office space at an under-market-value rate to a for-profit entity, the Piedmont Post. Any other individual or group (non-profit or for-profit) must also pay the PCA to use the space at the PCA’s discretion. The PCA board has complete control over granting access to the space, and what the cost will be. Why are we giving a free 7-year lease to a single organization who will then charge the community to use it? How is this equitably serving the citizens of Piedmont?
Why is it that Piedmont Education Foundation, an organization that exists to raise money for the education of every PUSD student, pays rent in a city building and the PCA does not?
What was the community process to decide this? There has been no call for community input regarding this city-owned building. There is no accountability to the general community if they move forward with this lease as it is currently written. How can the city, in the self-proclaimed dire need of financial resources to fix our other city-owned spaces, consider a 7-year locked-in lease at $1 a year granting majority exclusive access to a single private organization?
If the city desires to support the arts, why is it that the Piedmont Arts Fund, a group that exists solely to raise money to support the arts in the PUSD schools, must pay the Piedmont Center for the Arts a fee to use the space? Why does this organization get to take community fundraising dollars and put them into their own bank account with no accountability for programming? Additionally, they charged a fee for the high school theater department to use the space after the Alan Harvey Theater was torn down. How can the City justify the PCA charging other community groups and our schools to use a space they were given for free as supporting community arts?
Please consider other options for managing this city resource, for example, incorporate the building into the Recreation Department facilities just like the Veterans Memorial Building and Piedmont Community Hall. If you believe that the PCA should have free access to the building over other organizations, then grant them a set number of free rental days, allowing them to continue offering their programs, but NOT the ability to control access to a city resource. To ensure the city equitably supports arts access, you can add a sub-committee or even just an arts advocate position to the Recreation Commission. I ask the council and staff to come back to the table with a plan that will serve all citizens of Piedmont or defer the issue to the Recreation Committee to obtain public input on the future uses of 801 Magnolia.
Rebecca Posamentier is co-chair of Piedmont Arts Fund and founding Education Director of Bay Area Children’s Theatre.