Eli Broad's museum OK'd by supervisors, making it virtually a done deal
While Eli Broad's downtown museum still needs one more agency's approval before it gets its official green light, Tuesday's 5-0 approval by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors means that it is more or less a sure thing.
The vote scheduled for Monday by the last agency whose OK is needed -- the Grand Avenue Authority, a joint powers authority of state and local officials -- would seem to be a mere formality, given that all four of its voting members are now publicly on record as supporters of the $80-million to $100-million project.
The museum would plant the 2,000-work contemporary art collection of the billionaire philanthropist and his wife, Edythe, at Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, a literal stone's throw from Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The biggest question mark now is Broad himself. He continued to stay mum after Tuesday's vote as to whether a rival site offered by the city of Santa Monica still has a chance. Broad's spokeswoman, Karen Denne, said he won't announce his decision until the Grand Avenue Authority acts. Broad is on record as leaning toward the downtown site because it dovetails with his longtime goal of revitalizing downtown L.A., and he thinks the museum would draw better downtown, where it would enjoy synergy with MOCA as an across-the-street neighbor.
The Grand Avenue Authority's chair, Supervisor Gloria Molina, and its vice-chair, Los Angeles council member Jan Perry, have now cast votes to amend the original 2007 development plan to replace about 100,000 square feet of retail space with the 120,000-square-foot museum. William T Fujioka, the county's chief executive, recommended Tuesday's approval in a written report to the Board of Supervisors; Christine Essel, the new chief executive of L.A.'s Community Redevelopment Agency, also serves on the joint powers authority, and her staff's recommendation led to the museum's approval last month by the redevelopment agency's commissioners. That was the first station of the project's 51/2-week gamut of government agencies that's scheduled to end Monday.
The Grand Avenue Authority's fifth member is Dale Bonner, California's secretary of business, transportation and housing. But he doesn't have a vote.
Tuesday's consideration by the Board of Supervisors took just eight minutes. First, Fujioka assured Supervisor Michael Antonovich that before the museum can be built, Broad will have paid $7.7 million into a special fund for developing affordable housing in the two residential towers that are expected eventually to share the parcel with the museum. Plans call for 158 of the 790 housing units to be subsidized. Broad agreed to the payment last month after losing a public argument with Antonovich over whether someone whose net worth Forbes magazine estimates at $5.7 billion deserved a 99-year lease for a token buck a year.
The Grand Avenue Project plan adopted in 2007 -- more than two years before Broad became interested in a downtown site after at first saying he wanted to build on the Westside -- called for all nonprofit cultural facilities built within the project's three-block area to receive rent-free leases. When Antonovich objected, Broad initially argued that there shouldn't be a billionaire's exclusion. But he acquiesced on the eve of the redevelopment commissioners' vote, agreeing to pay the $7.7 million that a county-hired real estate expert pegged as the value of the 99-year lease.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, which had spoken against the museum before the two previous public votes on it, did not appear before the supervisors. The group, which has close ties to the Falun Gong spiritual movement that's banned in China, wants to build a 3,000-seat theater on the site, along with a high-rise tower housing performers who would train at the theater to join Shen Yun's touring dance troupes. The group's spokesman could not be reached for comment.
The Board of Supervisors approved the museum without comment after hearing from three speakers -- David Johnson, the co-chair of MOCA's board; Stephen Rountree, the Music Center's president; and Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Assn. that promotes the downtown district. They reiterated many of the points previously advanced in the museum's favor, including job creation, the establishment of downtown L.A. as a mecca for contemporary art fans, and the likelihood that the two museums together would attract a young audience that's also coveted by the performance groups based at the Music Center.
The revised environmental impact report approved by the various government agencies says the museum is projected to open three exhibitions annually, and will employ as many as 40 full-time and 15 part-time workers.
The museum, tentatively called the Broad Collection, will have three levels, and will rise no more than 95 feet above Grand Avenue.
Among the provisions of the operating agreement approved by the supervisors:-- "School-organized student groups shall always be granted free admission," and admission charges for others will be "reasonable rates...in keeping with...similar museums in the region." The museum must be open at least five days a week, for a total of at least 30 hours, unless economic conditions make that impossible.
-- The Broad Art Foundation will operate the museum, and Broad will provide it with a $200-million operating endowment before the museum opens. The art foundation's parent organization, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, must maintain a minimum net worth of $500 million that includes the $200-million museum endowment and the value of the museum building and other "physical assets." Besides the Broad Art Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation currently encompasses divisions for education, scientific and medical research and civic initiatives. The parent foundation will have the "sole and absolute discretion" to close the museum and give away its assets.
-- At least one person on the Broad Art Foundation's board must be an "independent member" not paid by Broad or his charitable foundations.
-- No more than 6% of the museum endowment's value will be spent annually; its minimum investment goal is to maintain in real terms the buying power packed by $200 million at the time the museum opens.
-- The museum building can't include more than 15,000 square feet of office space or 48,000 square feet for art storage and archiving. Exhibition space is expected to be at least 35,000 square feet.
-- Broad will reimburse the Grand Avenue Authority up to $305,000 for legal costs and consulting fees it incurs from negotiating the museum agreement and making revisions to the site's original development plan.
--The museum doesn't need government approval to contract with outside companies to run its gift shop and cafe; it will pay the Grand Avenue Authority 2% of the rents it receives from those operators.
-- Mike Boehm
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Photo: Site of proposed Broad Collection museum. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times