Neon museum could get switched off amid redevelopment wind-down

The wind-down of local redevelopment threatens to undo an agreement to bring the Museum of Neon Art from downtown Los Angeles to Glendale, which could leave the venerable curator of all things neon without a home.

MONA had shut down its Los Angeles space last year after the Glendale City Council, acting in its dual role as the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency, approved spending $5.2 million to move the museum into a renovated property across from the Americana at Brand.

But that could all be undone as officials decide which past agreements to drop, and which ones to keep, a process that has unnerved museum officials.

“We put all our eggs in this basket,” Kim Koga, MONA’s executive director, said.

Under the deal inked in 2011, MONA would get two years worth of free rent. After that, the museum’s monthly rent would increase over time from $2,500 to $5,000, plus a portion of revenues more than $600,000.

About $2.7 million has already been spent on acquisition and design, but the project could fall victim to the unraveling of redevelopment obligations to comply with a state mandate to redirect redevelopment project property tax revenues to Sacramento to help plug a massive budget hole.

[For the Record 5:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the $2.7 million spent so far included construction when it should been acquisition.]

If that happens, Koga said there is no Plan B and the museum will be left without a home.

An oversight board composed of officials from Glendale Unified, Los Angeles County and Glendale that has the power to kill or amend deals made by the former redevelopment agency met behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss the MONA contract, but no decision was made.

The oversight board must decide if the museum deal is the best way to use redevelopment money, which would otherwise go to the agencies they represent.

“The city’s interests and this board’s interests are not always in alignment,” said Charles Green, the board’s attorney.

The outcome could put Glendale in a tough spot, since the museum could sue over a breach of contract. The oversight board, which was set up by the state but consists of local representatives, is immune from litigation, leaving Glendale exposed to any legal costs.

The museum was slated to move in about halfway through next year, but Koga said that plan has since been put on hold. All the delays have made it difficult to raise funds, and not having a secure home intensifies the challenge, she added.

But it hasn’t stopped museum officials from interacting with the community. They have already done one tour of neon signs in Glendale and are planning another.

“Tourists flock to neon,” said Eric Lynxwiler, who’s worked with the museum for 14 years. “Really, it’s a moth-to-the-flame kind of thing.”

On Wednesday, the museum’s attorney, Jean-Jacques Dupré, warned of litigation should the oversight board decide to terminate the contract. And if the city is sued and loses, that would take a bite out of the leftover redevelopment money otherwise slated for the county and school district.

“It’s a messy, messy situation,” Green said.

The oversight board is scheduled to continue the discussion behind closed doors next week, but it’s unknown when a decision will be reached.

The uncertainty has left MONA officials nervous.

“The longer our museum is closed, the more vague its future plans are,” Koga said.


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