BERGAMOT STATION – These days no fight with City Hall is complete without an electronic petition.
On Tuesday the Bergamot Station Gallery Cultural Association, which represents more than three dozen galleries and organizations at the art center, posted a petition to the website Change.org, urging City Council to reconsider the request for proposed development issued by City Hall.
The petition, entitled “Save Bergamot Station Arts Center from Overdevelopment,” had more than 5,800 e-signatures by 3 p.m. on Thursday.
Bergamot Station is a complex of art galleries, museums, and cultural spaces housed on public land in repurposed industrial buildings. Opened in 1994, it’s grown into a world-renowned arts haven.
City Hall asked three developers to propose projects that include a hotel and office space. In February, the proposals were presented to council with the intention that council would select one developer for continued negotiations. Council balked, asking the developers to come back after the Bergamot Station community had a chance to weigh in.
Last month, residents and gallerists got loud at a community meeting that introduced the three potential developers. They questioned the need for a hotel and said that the construction of underground parking would displace current galleries.
Weeks later Bergamot’s founder, Wayne Blank, who’d been working with one of the three developers, announced he would sever ties and urged council to reject all three proposals.
Laura Korman, director of TAG Gallery, was tasked with organizing a cohesive petition message from the members of the association.
“It was like pulling teeth to get everyone in the association to agree on exact wording,” she said. “But now it shows where we stand as a group.”
The association also sent a letter to council. They’d like a summit between the tenants and city planners.
It’s not development they’re opposed to, Korman said, but the confines, presented by City Hall, that the developers need to work within.
“They need to go backwards and work that out first,” she said. “It definitely needs a facelift. We’re not against progress. We know our land, like all Santa Monica land, is valuable.”
Korman doesn’t blame the developers who, she said, are working within the plans laid out for them by City Hall. She feels like council probably understands the association’s concerns as well.
The proposed underground parking would require construction that would disrupt the tenants, Korman said, without solving the parking problems.
“Without immediate action to address at-capacity parking at Bergamot Station, the galleries and tenants will not survive any construction plan or the completion of the Expo Light-Rail stop at Bergamot Station.” the association said in a release.
One member of the association, The Santa Monica Museum of Art, (SMMoA) abstained from signing the release.
In February, representatives of the museum asked council to moved forward with negotiations with the 26Street TOD development team, the same team favored by city planners.
26Street proposed a 20,000-square-foot space for the museum.
City Hall’s selection of the development team would not have been final approval. That project would then have to go through City Hall’s development agreement process with stops at the Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission, and, again, council.
Museum officials declined to comment for this article.
When asked if it was getting ugly between the museum and gallerists who currently share the center’s 5.6 acres Korman said, “It’s very ugly.”
Michael Zakian, director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University, sent an open letter to council blasting the museum’s role in the process. He is married to Lia Skidmore who owns Skidmore Contemporary Art at Bergamot Station
Museum leaders, he said, could have called a meeting with the gallerists but instead sent two e-mails “urging their members to support (26Street) at all costs.”
“These actions are divisive and demonstrate SMMoA’s clear disregard for the galleries that have made Bergamot into one of the nation’s great art centers,” Zakian said. “It is deeply disappointing to see that the director and trustees of SMMoA are not demonstrating the sound judgment, wise leadership, or good will necessary to serve as a respected anchor institution of Bergamot Art Center.”
The petition includes e-signatures from Santa Monicans and people from across the country.
“Bergamot Station is not just a resource for Santa Monica, or even CA, but for the nation,” said a woman from Ossining, N.Y.
“While other cities worldwide are developing art centers,” said a Santa Monica resident, “Santa Monica should be ashamed of not wanting Bergamot Station Arts Center to thrive.”