Council approves new agreement for 801 Magnolia

Julie Reichle

Piedmont City Administrator Sara Lillevand answers questions about the proposed agreement for 801 Magnolia usage at the Monday, March 7 meeting.

The City Council has approved a five-year agreement between the city and Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) that they say will give the city more control of the building and should open up the facility to more artists and other users.

The five-year agreement, which city officials stressed is a compromise by the principal parties involved with the building at 801 Magnolia Ave., was approved late Monday night on a 3-2 council vote, with Vice Mayor Jen Cavenaugh and Councilmember Jennifer Long voting no after a five-hour meeting.

“At some point, we have to say the goal is to work together for a common result,” Councilwoman Conna McCarthy said.

The newly approved agreement will have the city’s Recreation Department manage use of the main hall at 801 Magnolia. The city reserves use of the main hall on all weekday mornings, two weekday evenings each week, and over 16 weekends each of the six years.

The new agreement makes PCA a user of the facility rather than a tenant. PCA will have access to program the space — for arts-related uses only — on weekday afternoons, two weekday evenings each week, and up to 36 weekends each year. The approved agreement assures a minimum of 2,492 hours — about 45 percent of the main hall’s usable time — each of the five years of the agreement.

PCA will pay a monthly user fee of $1,000 with an annual cost-of-living increase.

The new facility use agreement replaces a 10-year, $1-a-year lease agreement between the city and the PCA, which will end as of May 11*. Since April 2021, that lease (and PCA’s tenancy) has been renewed on a month-to-month basis pending approval of a new agreement.

Cavenaugh said her “no” vote was mostly due to the five-year length of the terms for the agreement. She had favored a one-or two-year agreement, and said the longer agreement “ties the city’s hands too much.”

Long also said she favored a shorter agreement than five years.

Several speakers representing the PCA, including Sue Malick, its board president, urged council approval of the agreement. “The building will be used more intensively than ever before,” Malick said. “We’ll have challenges with this agreement, but we’re up to it.”

Sue Malick, President of the Piedmont Center for the Arts, encourages voting for the approval of the usage agreement

Others including Dick Carter, a Piedmont Recreation Commissioner, suggested more arts community voices needed to be heard and taken into account before an agreement was finalized.

But most council members rejected that notion; Councilwoman Betsy Smegal Andersen said Monday’s council meeting, and others in late 2020 and early 2021 served as participation points for the public, and that emails and other communications have been coming in for the past 18 months with suggestions.

“This is the public process; we’re in the public process right now,” Andersen said. 

Ultimately, the council shortened the terms of the agreement from six to five years, and called for an evaluation of the agreement after 18 months and annually thereafter. Appropriate amendments, council members said, would be enacted besed on those reports.

Council members took another suggestion made several times Monday night to heart — to greatly expand the proposed 30-day time frame for scheduling open facility time at 801 Magnolia. Thirty days to schedule artists, several speakers said, simply isn’t nearly enough notice for PCA to book artists or performers. Council members agreed and changed that “release time” in the agreement to 90 days.

The council on Monday also authorized written notice of termination of the 10-year $1-a-year lease as of March 25. Since April 2021, that lease (and PCA’s tenancy) has been renewed on a month-to-month basis pending approval of a new agreement.

The Piedmont Post newspaper, which is a “sub-tenant” of PCA at the 801 Magnolia building, will need to find a new home under terms of the new agreement, and will be given 60 days’ formal notice. 

Monday night’s vote brought to an apparent end a discussion which started before a November 2020 council vote to tentatively approve a new seven-year lease for the PCA to occupy and operate the city-owned building arts center, which at one time was Christian Science reading room. That seven-year agreement, some council members said, was better than the 10-year lease that was set to expire in March 2021. 

That seven-year agreement was never approved on a “second reading” by the council, and a robust discussion developed over whether an acceptable facility use agreement could ever be reached. In January 2021, On Jan. 7, PCA board President Malick sent an email to local arts supporters titled “A Call to Action,” asking them to send letters in support of the new seven-year lease agreement to the City Council. However, that seven-year agreement never was finalized, with council members expressing concerns about that agreement’s landlord-tenant framework as a potential barrier to maximum community access to the space. The old lease has been extended month-to-month since then.

Despite any misgivings council members had about various aspects of the facility use agreement, council members on Monday were quick to praise the PCA, which spent its own money renovating the city-owned 801 Magnolia and has worked hard the past 11 years to bring quality artists and performers to Piedmont.

Mayor Teddy Gray King, noting the city doesn’t have an arts commission, said the PCA’s work has helped fill part of that void.

And despite disagreements on individual aspects of the agreement, council members said they want PCA to have success well into the future, and that the city wants to help make that happen while opening up the PCA building to as many users as possible.

Contact Sam Richards at

(*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the lease would end April 25, as outlined in the staff report. However, during the meeting, the Council changed the notice date to Monday, April 11 making the termination date Wednesday, May 11.)

5 thoughts on “Council approves new agreement for 801 Magnolia

  1. An honest reading of the Facility Use Agreement that has just been approved by the City Council would say that it is fair to the Piedmont Center for the Arts, fair to the Recreation Department, and fair to other potential users of the building. In other words, it is an “equitable” agreement, provided that one assumes an underlying intent, as was expressed by those City Council members who approved the Agreement, to continue to have the Piedmont Center for the Arts provide the City with a focal point for artistic activities. The City has other facilities for recreational and other community activities, but it has but one facility–801 Magnolia–where the arts are able to take center stage. The Facility Use Agreement provides for other, non-arts uses of the building at 801 Magnolia, and it does so in an equitable manner that, at the same time, allows the Piedmont Center for the Arts to continue its activities on a preferential basis that is consistent with such underlying intent.

    • As many said, a more equitable agreement could be achieved if more hours were given to the City. Some arts groups/artists did not see why they had to rent the city facility through PCA at higher rates. As one Councilmember expressed, hopefully PCA rates for non-profits/residents will track those that the city charges. Good intentions aside, how equitable this new agreement is will be evaluated in 18 months, presumably in a public meeting.

      I think a more fair agreement would have been achieved had the city simply agendized the possible uses of 801 at a public hearing before starting negotiations with PCA. This was done 11 years ago when the building was first leased. I think there are arts and other organizations that would like the opportunity to rent space in the building.

  2. I think there is no question that this agreement had less PUBLIC exposure than the other examples I cite. The public record and City video will confirm that.

    Proponents cite three meetings but really this process started on the wrong foot. Without the consent of City Council, the City opened lease negotiations with PCA that produced a lease that weakened City control of the building. Nonetheless it passed 3-2. Subsequent meetings brought the community out and revisions were made. Had the process started with an open public discussion of the use of 801 a more equitable use agreement could have been fashioned. PCA would likely have achieved many of the conditions it sought.

  3. The public process used to reach this decision was not that traditionally used by City Council to set use agreements and new policies and was certainly not transparent. Facility use agreements (for the pool and sports fields) and conditional use permits (for private businesses) have always been negotiated by subcommittees of Council or heard at the Planning or Recreation Commissions before getting to Council. Likewise, new policies and programs (safety cameras, pickle ball, dog park rules) have always been developed by Commission subcommittees before being brought to Council. No subcommittees or Commission hearings were held on the 801 facility use agreement and City Council should do a better job next time. No doubt the community will come together to use this great facility and a lot of that will depend on the Recreation Department approving a wide diversity of programming in 801.

    • I am not certain that the items you mention as part of a “tradition” had the same degree of public exposure and comment at the City Council as the agreement relating to the Piedmont Center for the Arts. This was the third time for public input at three meetings of the City Council at which the arrangement for the continuation of the work of the Piedmont Center for the Arts was discussed and debated. There was a substantial amount of public comment both at the three meetings and in written submissions by interested members of the public. At a certain point, the governmental process must come to an end so that the fine work of the Piedmont Center for the Arts can move forward to provide our City with an artistic focus that in other cities–Palo Alto, Pleasanton, and Richmond, as examples–is provided by the city itself. I am confident that our community will be a better place because of the efforts of the volunteers who, having raised the money to rescue the building from its previously derelict state, do the work of the Piedmont Center for the Arts that enables artists and students in various artistic disciplines–including music, dramatic arts, visual arts, and literature–to perform and display their works for residents of Piedmont and surrounding communities.

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