Eli Broad offers $7.7 million for art museum lease, not $1

Eli Broad told city and county officials this week he would pay $7.7 million for a 99-year lease on public land in downtown Los Angeles where he can build an art museum, winning over a public opponent of his plan and signaling in the strongest terms yet that he has decided against putting the museum in Santa Monica.

Broad persuaded Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the only public official on record opposing his previous request to lease it for a token dollar a year. “We are pleased he has agreed to pay the fair market value on the property,” Antonovich’s spokesman, Tony Bell, said Tuesday. “The supervisor is satisfied. He would support the effort at this point.”

Broad, the philanthropist and art collector whose worth Forbes magazine estimates at $5.7 billion, already has promised to pay the full construction cost of up to $100 million and provide a $200-million endowment that would yield an estimated $12 million a year to cover the museum’s operating expenses.

The $7.7-million offer came as the board of commissioners of the City of Los Angeles’ Community Redevelopment Agency, which owns the land and would need to approve any lease, prepares to take up his museum proposal at its meeting Thursday.

“The Broads are spending $300 million on this project and they want everyone to be supportive and satisfied,” said Karen Denne, spokeswoman for the Broad Art Foundation. “By offering to spend an additional 2.5% of the total project, they hope that everyone will feel good about it.”

Denne said that Broad sent letters Monday and Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, the City Council and the CRA saying he is now willing to pay for use of the land. The letter says the $7.7 million “is based on a recent valuation” done by the county.

The CRA’s commissioners are expected to conduct a public hearing, then vote on whether to allow Broad to use the site at the corner of Grand Avenue and 2nd Street for the museum housing a collection of more than 2,000 works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons and others that he and his wife, Edythe, have amassed.

Denne said that the Board of Supervisors, the City Council and the Joint Powers Authority that is overseeing development along Grand Avenue all would have to subsequently OK the plan before construction of the museum could begin.

The museum would include 30,000 to 35,000 square feet of gallery space, 45,000 to 50,000 square feet to store art not on display, and 14,000 square feet for offices, a conference space and a museum store.

Among the issues on Thursday for the CRA/LA board is whether it should commit up to $30 million to build a parking garage beneath the what Broad envisions as a three-level museum building. According to information released by the Broad Art Foundation, the garage would cost about $23 million, and Broad and his wife, Edythe, would advance $15 million that CRA/LA could repay over 11 years. About 200 of the 300 spaces would be for public use, with the rest reserved for museum parking.

Dollar-a-year leases for nonprofit cultural facilities are commonplace in Los Angeles and elsewhere. The proposed new museum’s across-the-street neighbor, the Museum of Contemporary Art, enjoys dollar-a-year leases for the land on which its Grand Avenue building sits and on the city-owned building in Little Tokyo that houses MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary exhibition space. The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena pays a dollar a year for its city-owned land in Pasadena, and the Pasadena Playhouse subleases its theater from the city for $1 a year.

Broad had defended his request for a comparable deal, telling The Times in April, “It just burns me that people are saying they’re giving me, a billionaire, $1 a year for nothing, without looking at the public benefit that’s being created.... Any city in America would like to get a museum built if they didn’t have to pay for it.”

Broad held a private architectural competition in the spring for a design for the museum. Sources have told The Times that he favors the work of the New York firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Antonovich’s about-face on the Broad lease spells trouble for Santa Monica’s bid to host Broad’s museum. It already has struck an agreement in principle with Broad to provide a $1-a-year lease on acreage next to the Civic Auditorium if he’ll build his museum there.

But Broad subsequently has said he expects more visitors if the museum is in downtown L.A., and sees it as an important attraction to boost the cultural tourism and downtown economic development he has championed. Denne, the Broad Foundation spokeswoman, said Tuesday that Broad still considers Santa Monica a “viable option” for the museum, but “we need to know if this can happen in Los Angeles before he makes the final decision.”

The Santa Monica deal calls for the city also to provide $1 million toward the museum’s design costs.