CITY HALL — The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to launch formal negotiations with art collector and philanthropist Eli Broad to secure the museum he intends to build on the Westside for his 2,000-piece contemporary art collection.
City Manager Lamont Ewell was given permission to initiate negotiations with the Broad Foundations to build the cultural facility on 2.5 acres between the Santa Monica Courthouse and Civic Auditorium, officially throwing its name into the hat for a project that is facing stiff competition from the city of Beverly Hills and a third unnamed municipality.
The nonprofit is comprised of the Broad Art Foundation and Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, both started by philanthropist and prominent businessman Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, who also gave a substantial amount of money to build the Broad Stage at Santa Monica College.
The concept of a museum that displays works from artists such as Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons expectedly drew widespread support from not only councilmembers, but the crowd of people who spoke in support of bringing the facility to the Civic Center, an up-and-coming area that is slated to see a slew of stimulating development projects in the near future, including an affordable housing complex, the Exposition Light Rail and refurbishment of the auditorium, which once hosted the Academy Awards.
“When I heard about it, I was just blown away because I’ve been hearing a lot about the possibilities we’re looking to do in the Civic and the area of the Civic and that was already exciting but now this just seems like a lightening bolt,” said Tom Whaley, the visual and performing arts coordinator for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Jessica Cusick, the cultural affairs supervisor for City Hall, said one of the reasons why the Broad’s collection is significant is because the couple often acquires every artist piece from a certain series.
“They have been willing to go out on a limb and collect work such as major installation work by artists, which is difficult often to collect,” she said. “It’ll be a piece that might be an entire room you walk into or a piece that might be the kind of piece that can only be unveiled over time.
“They have been willing to commit as collectors to works that are not simple for museums to exhibit.”
The more than 2,000-piece collection, representing more than 200 artists, are housed in several different locations that are inaccessible to the public, including the Broad’s residences and the Broad Art Foundation’s facility on Barnard Way. Pieces from the collection have been loaned more than 7,000 times since 1984 to nearly 500 museums.
Some of the recent acquisitions in the collection include Ruscha’s “Desire” and Koons’ “Wishing Well.”
Under the proposal, the Broad Foundations would build and operate the museum, paying for all costs but a small percentage of design and construction, which would be covered by City Hall in the amount of about $1 million. City Hall would also have the option of purchasing the art foundation’s property on Barnard Way, which is valued at an estimated $6 million.
Also in contention is the city of Beverly Hills which was approached by the Broad Foundations last year about developing a museum on a strip of land at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. The proposal there is to build a museum that would have more than 43,000 square feet of gallery space, an outdoor public plaza, a sculpture garden, archives, offices for the foundations and ground-floor retail.
Santa Monica city officials approached Eli Broad more than two months ago about opening the museum closer to the beach.
“The museum would draw more than our residents, it would draw visitors to the Civic Center area,” Cusick said.
But while there was excitement surrounding the proposal, concerns were raised about the cost to City Hall.
Councilman Bobby Shriver, who said he supports the project, pointed out that aside from the $7 million that City Hall would cover for construction and design costs and acquisition of the foundations’ facility on Barnard Way, there’s also the expenditure of a public asset.
“That piece of land … where [the museum] is located is worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” Shriver said. “It’s important to the community to realize by putting that land up we have made a large expenditure of city assets.”
The foundation would pay a nominal rent to lease the 2.5 acres.
He also cautioned that the project is not a done deal because of competition from Beverly Hills.
Councilmembers said the Civic Center would be an ideal location for the city.
“Not only is it a fabulous opportunity to build a museum in the heart of our city that does house a world class art collection, the synergy it would create with the other cultural venues in our city and our educational institutions, I think, is fabulous,” Councilwoman Gleam Davis said.