A potential roadblock to Eli Broad’s plans for a downtown museum housing his contemporary art collection sprang up Thursday while he was en route to securing approval to plant a $100-million facility on publicly owned land.
The commissioners of the city Community Redevelopment Agency OKd Broad’s plan 4-0, but suddenly now vying for consideration is a rival plan to build a 3,000-seat theater and training center for a tradition-steeped Chinese performing arts company on the same parcel at Grand Avenue and 2nd Street. Behind the proposal is Shen Yun Performing Arts, which has brought shows to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Orange County Performing Arts Center and other major venues and says it will stage more than 400 performances this year in 30 countries.
Shen Yun’s spokesman, Shizhong Chen, briefly presented its plan to the board during a 20-minute hearing at the Central Library that preceded the vote in favor of the museum, which may become known as the Broad Collection, à la New York City’s Frick Collection. Chen complained that Shen Yun had tried since February to present its proposal to the redevelopment agency but was ignored.
Now, he said in an interview after the vote, the group will try to make its case to the remaining government bodies that have to sign off on the museum: the Los Angeles City Council, the county Board of Supervisors and a Joint Powers Authority of city, county and state officials that’s in charge of the $3-billion Grand Avenue project.
Shen Yun wants the museum site to be thrown open to competing bids, under the same principle under which government authorities chose the Related Cos. in 2004 as developer of the overall Grand Avenue project. Because the original Related plan is being changed to accommodate the museum, Chen said, the same competitive process should take place for that parcel. Asked whether Shen Yun might sue to stop the museum if officials don’t reopen the site for development bids, Chen said, “we’ll have to evaluate our situation.”
Chen made a two-minute appeal to CRA officials during the hearing, and said they did not respond. But, David Riccitiello, the downtown regional administrator for CRA/LA, said in an interview that the agency did respond, and “we suggested a couple of sites in Chinatown to them. We thought it would be a perfect match.” Broad said afterward that it was the first he had heard of Shen Yun’s proposal. He said that there’s no need to open competitive bidding for the parcel because the museum is a subset of Related’s development plan and falls under the development umbrella created during the public process that led to Related’s approval as developer.
Chen said that a Shen Yun center would be a bigger magnet for downtown visitors and economic activity than the art museum, which Broad hopes will draw 200,000 or more visitors each year. A written proposal that Chen gave to the redevelopment commission calls for a 1.5-million-square-foot complex with traditional Chinese architectural features. It would include a high-rise office building and housing for up to 1,800 students who would live there while training to join three different touring Shen Yun dance troupes.
Press reports about Shen Yun have focused on its connection to the Falun Gong spiritual movement that is banned in China. The St. Petersburg Times described the troupe as “basically a mouthpiece for Falun Gong.” But Winston Xia, who said he is part of the team trying to relocate the New York-based Shen Yun to L.A., said Thursday that although some performers are Falun Gong practitioners, there is no explicitly spiritual message to its shows, which add 3-D effects and dazzling stage spectacle to a performance tradition also rooted in Buddhism and Confucianism.
As for Broad’s museum, it emerged during the CRA/LA meeting that officials may earmark $7.7 million he has agreed to pay for a 99-year lease on the site toward subsidized housing in high-rise residential buildings that are still part of the plan, to be built when the economy recovers enough for Related to secure necessary construction loans.
Broad said that although the Grand Avenue development plan calls for nonprofit cultural institutions such as his museum to receive $1-a-year leases, he was willing to pay the county’s estimate of the land’s lease value to remove complaints about one of L.A.'s richest citizens receiving such a benefit. Broad will pay to build the museum and provide a $200-million endowment, controlled by the Broad Art Foundation, to cover operating expenses.
Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art across Grand Avenue from Broad’s site, addressed the redevelopment commission, saying Broad’s collection and MOCA’s will “dovetail almost perfectly.” Taken together, he said, the two museums would represent “perhaps the finest contemporary art collection in America.”
That attraction, added John Emerson, chairman of the Music Center, will draw “a younger, hipper audience that we think will dramatically benefit all of us who are on Grand Avenue.”
CRA/LA approved spending up to $30 million on a parking garage beneath the museum. The deal calls for Broad to advance $15 million for the publicly owned, 300-space garage and be paid back over 11 years.