LINCOLN MIDDLE SCHOOL — In its history, Bergamot Station has been a rail stop and an international art destination.

By 2015, the iconic site will have to be both, and planners are running into a mix of opinions within the community on how to do that and make the arts center an economically viable endeavor.

The Exposition Light Rail line will change the face of the area, eliminate a major gallery space and bring in thousands of riders through the area every day, creating the potential for economic gain — if the businesses and uses are there to take advantage.

That planning process involves both the “transit village” on the former Papermate site across Olympic Boulevard from the art center, and the mixed-use creative arts district envisioned in the area by the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element, a planning document that dictates development.

At a joint meeting of the Planning and Arts commissions, Planning Department staff in conjunction with consultants presented five concepts for the city-owned section of Bergamot Station with the goal of integrating it with the new transit line, preserving the artistic community and bringing in money to pay for it all.

The options weighed the preservation of the site and accessibility for pedestrians against the economic feasibility and ability of the project to generate revenue.

At present, the art galleries receive discounted rents in order to survive. While City Hall doesn’t plan to change that, several of the options under consideration involve bringing in high-revenue uses like hotels and restaurants to help subsidize the center.

The emphasis on revenue discomfited attendees, including Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer, who felt that City Hall and its residents should be prepared to subsidize the arts at Bergamot.

“I think it was a mistake to include the issue of city revenue in this discussion,” Winterer said.

Of the five options put forward, three were considered “most likely.”

Those three — entitled A, B and C — played with the ideas of preservation and how to help Bergamot Station retain its “funky” character while inviting in both revenue and potential developers.

Option A involved the least change, adding a few new two or three-story buildings but largely preserving the footprint of the existing use.

The second option involved divvying up the existing parcels between a variety of owner-developers to allow the spaces to change organically as new owners came and went.

Option C preserves the eastern portion of the site and puts up the western side for development, which could include buildings up to four stories tall, a proposed hotel and underground parking.

Those three were bounded by two suggestions staff considered less likely, including a “no-change” scenario that nodded to the coming light rail only insofar as it removed the building which houses the successful Track 16 Gallery and Option D, which proposed dense development, including a seven-story building, arranged around a pedestrian spine.

The majority of speakers lobbied for the minimalist options, either “no change” or Option A.

It would be impossible to predict the direction Bergamot might go if it was split into many small parcels, they said, and Option C’s vision of preserving only part of the station was too much change.

Ruthann Lehrer, a Landmark Commissioner, said that change is inevitable, but what happens at Bergamot should also be weighed against the large-scale development happening across Olympic at the transit village.

If those developments could help pay for the arts, there would be no need to put more development at Bergamot, she said.

“I’m looking at the balance between this wonderful complex and the galleries, which we value a lot and all of the development that’s taking place across the street,” Lehrer said. “They’re supposed to provide community benefits. That would provide some of the subsidy and support.”

Gallery owners were worried that too much construction on the site itself would force galleries out, and that they would not come back.

Although staff said that a primary concern was making sure that galleries survived the coming of Exposition Light Rail, it remained a chief concern.

Carol Kleinman, co-owner of TAG Gallery, said that she appreciated the foot traffic her gallery has gotten at Bergamot, but if she has to leave because construction interrupted her business, it would be difficult to relocate again.

“If we can’t continue business, we’d have to shut our doors,” Kleinman said, noting that the location of a gallery is a big part of its brand.

Staff will take the information from the meeting and bring it before City Council to solicit private partners.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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