CITY HALL — After announcing a tentative deal in January to bring philanthropist Eli Broad’s proposed art museum to Santa Monica’s Civic Center, City Hall has delayed a required City Council vote on the agreement for the second time, several council members said this week.
In an e-mail to the council obtained by the Daily Press, new City Manager Rod Gould said he pulled the museum deal from the Feb. 9 agenda after deciding the outline of the proposal “bears further scrutiny.”
In the e-mail, Gould said Councilman Bobby Shriver has provided staff with a resource who is “extremely knowledgeable about public/private cultural and art facilities throughout the nation” and will be reviewing the deal negotiated by former City Manager Lamont Ewell.
“I want to get this attorney’s take on our proposal before recommending we go further,” Gould wrote.
He also indicated City Hall might want to take a tougher stance in negotiations.
“I think we ought to make clear that this offer will only last 4-6 months. Mr. Broad should have plenty of time to make up his mind within that time frame,” he wrote.
“It behooves us to be very clear about just how far we wish to go to woo Mr. Broad and his museum,” he continued, also mentioning that if Broad selects a site in Los Angeles or Beverly Hills, which are also vying for the museum, “we still plan to build a cultural center and may have other options as far as an art museum goes.”
Broad has said he plans to spend as much as $60 million on construction and will create a $200 million endowment to pay for long-term operations at the museum, which would house his 2,000-piece modern art collection that includes works by artists including Andy Warhol and Toulouse Lautrec.
Santa Monica was the first to announce it was close to reaching an agreement on the museum, placing the outline of a proposed deal on a City Council agenda in January. The proposal called for City Hall to contribute $2.7 million toward construction of the museum and to give the Broad Foundations a 99-year lease on a 2.5-acre site next to the Civic Auditorium for $1 per year.
The City Council had originally planned to vote on the proposal in January, but rescheduled the vote for February after a meeting was canceled because of Mayor Ken Genser’s death.
Getting City Council approval for the deal to bring the museum to Santa Monica wouldn’t guarantee the Civic Center would ultimately be selected as the site, but would be an important step in attracting the project.
Gould and members of the City Council downplayed the significance of the delay this week, denying there has been a snag in negotiations and saying talks on the museum are ongoing. Gould said he had recently spoken with Broad and was planning to meet with the billionaire’s attorney today.
In the e-mail, Gould said Broad “is under a great deal of pressure by his many friends and allies in Los Angeles to build the museum there” but also said Santa Monica offers a better site and the chance to build the museum faster.
“A bit more time to analyze our position [on the museum deal] should not be interpreted as cold feet or disappointment,” Gould wrote.
A spokeswoman for the Broad Foundations, Karen Denne, this week said three locations remain in the running and a site decision is expected this spring.
The postponement comes after a new contender for the museum — a site in Downtown Los Angeles that is part of the Grand Avenue project — emerged last week, and after City Councilman Bobby Shriver criticized City Hall’s research on the museum deal for failing to include comparisons with other similar deals that public entities around the country have made with museum developers.
“I thought it was a mediocre proposal,” Shriver said of the deal outlined in January, adding that the museum is “going to consume a lot of staff time and should be studied in a more comprehensive way.”
After Santa Monica entered the running for the museum in November, Shriver suggested forming a City Council committee to participate in the negotiations, but failed to win support for the idea.
Without more information, Shriver said a “professional negotiation” would be impossible.
“Right now, Mr. Gould could not, in my opinion, have negotiated appropriately because the council and the community don’t know what the factors are,” he said.
Shriver also said he was concerned the initial proposal didn’t include a provision giving City Hall some authority to appoint a curator for the museum and didn’t specify how the museum’s art collection would be managed.
Other council members contacted this week said they support attracting the museum to Santa Monica and believe the city remains the front-runner.
Councilman Richard Bloom said he believes the delay was primarily because the new city manager, who started his job in late January, needed time to study the proposal and conduct “due diligence.”
“I wouldn’t read anything at all into it,” he said of the delay. “I have every confidence we’ll be seeing this on the council agenda in short order.”
Several council members said they now expect to consider the museum proposal in March.