Council set to ink museum deal

CITY HALL — Glendale is poised to ink a 15-year lease with the Los Angeles-based Museum of Neon Art — a $5.2-million deal that city officials say will reenergize the area across from the Americana at Brand.

The city-owned buildings near the corner of Brand Boulevard and Harvard Street will serve as a new permanent home for the nonprofit museum that offers educational classes alongside changing exhibitions of photography and contemporary and vintage neon art.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on deal Tuesday.

City officials have lauded the highly-subsidized deal with the museum — which first entered into formal negotiations in September 2009 — as a way to kick-start an arts and entertainment district downtown and draw more visitors to the area.

“We are providing a tourist attraction that hopefully will bring people from other cities into our shopping district,” Councilwoman Laura Friedman, who serves as chairwoman of the Redevelopment Agency, said during a joint council/agency meeting Tuesday, when the lease was introduced.

Still, Mayor Ara Najarian warned that the project could be threatened by Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate local redevelopment agencies. City officials have made moves to protect redevelopment revenue in recent weeks, but it is unclear whether they will be successful.

“If the state takes away redevelopment funds retroactively, we are going to face some challenges with this project,” Najarian said. “Keep the champagne on ice.”

Under the terms of the lease, the city will renovate and merge city-owned buildings at 212 and 216 S. Brand Blvd. to house the museum, which will in turn pay phased-in rents ranging from $0 for the first two years to $5,000 per month, plus a portion of annual gross revenues, in the last five years.

But Councilman Dave Weaver indicated he would not support the lease agreement, saying he had not seen records showing the museum was financially viable. He did join the unanimous vote approving the design for the renovations to the city-owned buildings, which he said would improve the look of downtown.

The design features 9-foot-high glass storefronts and a large 19-foot neon statue of a diver, which project officials say would help brand the building.

“Like the marquee on the Alex Theatre, this will help anchor this block as a major cultural element,” said Joey Shimoda, of Shimoda Design Group.

Museum officials have said they began the search for a new permanent location in the late 1990s when they learned their Los Angeles lease would expire in 2007.

Dozens of potential spaces were vetted, but after more than a year of negotiations with Los Angeles fell through, the museum was forced into a temporary location in downtown Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, museum supporters thanked the city for its support.

“As we began to look at buildings, I realized we needed more than a building,” said museum board member Kathie Foley. “We actually need a community that welcomes us and can appreciate what MONA has to offer.”

FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version of this article that misspelled Councilman Dave Weaver's name. 

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