CIVIC CENTER — Today it is nothing more than a paved lot, sandwiched unnoticeably between the Santa Monica Courthouse and Civic Auditorium, serving the parking needs of visitors to both.

But soon the 2.5 acres that sit in this up-and-coming area could welcome a new museum housing some of the world’s finest collections of contemporary art, featuring names like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Andy Warhol, further solidifying the city’s identity as a cultural destination in the L.A. arts scene.

The Broad Foundations — which is made up of the Broad Art Foundation and Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation — is proposing to build and operate a museum that would display a collection that includes approximately 2,000 pieces by more than 200 artists. Broad would be paying for all but a small percentage of the design and construction costs, which would fall to City Hall in the amount of about $1 million.

The City Council tonight is scheduled to discuss the conceptual proposal and decide whether to authorize City Manager Lamont Ewell to enter negotiations with the Broad Foundations, which was started by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, who also helped fund Santa Monica College’s latest performing arts center, The Broad Stage.

City Hall however faces stiff competition from the city of Beverly Hills and a third city, which foundation officials declined to name.

The foundation approached Beverly Hills officials a year ago about developing a museum on a strip of land at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards where there is a cluster of privately-owned properties, Mahdi Aluzri, the assistant city manager for Beverly Hills, said.

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 foundation, and ground-floor retail to help activate pedestrian life on Santa Monica Boulevard.

“It’s a very wonderful opportunity for the city and Mr. Broad,” Aluzri said. “It’s highly visible. It’s pretty much the most traveled intersection in all of Southern California and the name of Beverly Hills being synonymous with a world-class collection of contemporary art would be a wonderful thing for both parties.”

Aluzri said that he most recently received a concept design for the museum in October and is now working with Broad on completing the scope of the project and moving forward with an environmental assessment.

The museum would be one of several art facilities to come online in Beverly Hills where the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is slated to be developed at the old post office on Crescent Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard.

Santa Monica joined the list of contenders when Ewell and several members of his senior staff met with Broad more than two months ago about opening a museum in the Civic Center, noting the changes in store for the area in the future, including a public park, new condo development and the Exposition Light Rail terminal.

Ewell said the proposed location in Beverly Hills is a “terrible area.”

“It’s terrible in the sense of shoehorning what could be a beautiful signature building into a very small condensed space when (Broad) has a great opportunity to come to Santa Monica where he would be surrounded by 2,500 high-end luxury hotel rooms, where we have literally millions of people who come through Santa Monica each year, where directly across the street you have the Rand Corp. with what is considered to be a beautifully designed building with world leaders who come in and out of that facility.

“This could be a cultural center that is second to none.”

Under the Santa Monica proposal, the Broad Foundations would lease the space on Main Street from City Hall for a long-term lease at a nominal amount. City Hall would also have the option of buying the Broad Art Foundation’s property on Barnard Way where a portion of the art collection is currently housed.

Karen Denne, spokeswoman for the Broad Foundations, said there is interest in completing the project quickly, though there is no time frame specified.

“Both (Santa Monica and Beverly Hills) are great locations and both also have challenges,” Denne said. “Clearly Mr. Broad thinks they are both great locations.”

Denne said that as the collection grew over the past several years, Broad began thinking about opening a museum that would also house administrative offices for the foundation and storage space for the artwork.

The foundation has loaned pieces from the collection more than 7,000 times since 1984 to nearly 500 museums.

A museum in the Civic Center would fulfill a part of City Hall’s Creative Capital Plan, which calls for such a facility along with the refurbishment of the Civic Auditorium, which is almost underway.

The council in September authorized the city manager to enter negotiations with the Nederlander Organization for a private/public partnership in the management of the historic venue, which was once home to the Academy Awards and drew names like Elton John and Bob Dylan.

The proposal has also been well-received by the local artist community, excited about seeing a facility that would anchor a cultural arts scene that includes the galleries at Bergamot Station, the artist studios at 18th Street Arts Center and numerous theaters including the Miles Memorial Playhouse.

“They really see this as a way of realizing a long-term desire of having a world-class visual arts institution,” Jessica Cusick, the cultural affairs manager for City Hall, said. “People are really excited and really see the potential.”

melodyh@smdp.com