City council nixes proposed PCA lease

Julie Reichle

801 Magnolia Avenue

The City Council on Monday opted not to approve a proposed new seven-year lease agreement for the Piedmont Center for the Arts building, and instead asked city staff to come back with a proposal that would give the city more control over the Magnolia Avenue venue than even a proposed updated lease agreement would.

City seeks more control

A new agreement — which could be a further-reworked lease, or a Memorandum of Understanding, or take some other form — would, council members said, not only give the city more control over what they say is an underutilized city-owned resource, but ideally will get the PCA out of the business of building maintenance and subleasing, allowing the group to focus on attracting and booking artists and performers.

Councilwoman Jen Cavenaugh said she sees the PCA building as “a community center with a lot of arts uses,” and the capacity for even more uses, arts and otherwise.

“We’re trying to get broader access (to that building) for the greater community,” said Cavenaugh, who also said she wants to see a “holistic plan” for the PCA building that includes as many potential users as possible.

Other council members agreed, and Mayor Teddy Gray King said she wants city staff, including City Administrator Sara Lillevand and City Attorney Michelle Kenyon, to “synthesize” the council discussion and citizen caller input of Monday night to come up with a plan for how the PCA building, a onetime Christian Science reading room, is used for the next several years. Lillevand didn’t have an exact time frame to come back to the council, but said her intent is to have something for the council to vote on “relatively quickly.” 

The City Council, at its Nov. 16, 2020 meeting, approved the first reading of a new agreement to lease the city-owned building at 801 Magnolia. In November, the council approved — on a split 3-2 vote — a seven-year extension of the original 10-year lease, which expires in June, at $1 per year. The second reading of that approval was on Monday’s council agenda.

Included in that proposed second reading were several notable changes to the approved agreement proposed by city staff. They included:

  • Instead of the former $1-a-year rent, the PCA would pay the city $800 a  month in rent, with a 3 percent annual increase, making the payment $955 a month in the lease’s seventh and final year.  Accordingly, the city would have also assumed, from the PCA, maintenance responsibility for the interior of the building.
  • City use of the building would have increased for an additional 24 hours a week, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, envisioned to have given the Piedmont Recreation Department more space to offer senior/adult and pre-school-age programs and activities.
  • PCA would have been required to get the city’s prior written consent to allow non-arts-related activities at 801 Magnolia, or for any other uses there not considered “approved” uses.

These and other changes were made after substantial comment from individuals and groups who, during a robust months-long community discussion, called for a wider base of center users. Others had said the city hasn’t been getting a sufficient return on what is widely seen as a valuable city resource. 

But it was apparent early in Monday night’s discussion that council members wanted even more changes than what city staff brought to them Monday. Councilwoman Conna McCarthy questioned whether the proposed updated lease agreement on Monday’s agenda would best serve either the PCA or the greater community. 

Vice Mayor Tim Rood said that a local nonprofit like the PCA isn’t necessarily the ideal entity to manage a city-owned property, or sublease city-owned space (The Piedmont Post newspaper subleases space in that building from PCA). No other city facility is managed by an outside group, he noted.

Added Cavenaugh, “The way we approach our other rentals would apply here as well.” 

Many residents have supported a second 10-year PCA lease, at $1 a year, contending the city has gotten considerable benefit from the high-level musical performances, lessons and art exhibits the PCA brings to that venue.

Others have contended that the $1-a-year lease for that building, owned by the city since 2003, has amounted to a subsidy other civic groups do not get.

There has been virtually universal agreement, including from the council dais Monday, that PCA has provided a significant civic benefit, and more such benefit is expected in the future. 

PCA board president Sue Malick and fellow board member Tom Reicher told the City Council Monday night that, while they supported the updated lease agreement on Monday’s agenda, they would also welcome a comparable alternative, be it an MOU or in some other form. “We want to play ball,” Malick said.

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One thought on “City council nixes proposed PCA lease

  1. “Robust, months-long community discussion”? Perhaps but that “discussion” was jaded by the opening proposition that the lease with PCA be renewed at $1 with greater restrictions on city use of 801 and was held privately. The “discussion” was run backwards – use of the 801 Building going forward should have been agendized at a public meeting before the City opened negotiations on the new lease. As such, Council kind of had this discussion Monday night – arts center or community center? – but that question should be put to the community. Staff indicated they intend to come back “relatively quickly” but didn’t indicate whether they would hold public hearing on this. Why not do so – the current lease with PCA ends in June and then runs month-to-month after that so PCA programming could conceivable continue to the end of the year while a true community discussion is held.

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