The art of compromise
Chico’s old Municipal Building is on the verge of becoming a center for the arts, maybe.
It’s been more than a year since the Chico City City Council rebuked local developer Wayne Cook’s efforts at purchasing the long-vacant old Municipal Building in downtown Chico. The thought was that the city should not relinquish control of the historic beauty outright, and instead created the Old Municipal Building Committee to look into different uses, create a set of criteria for its use and to seek out parties interested in leasing the space from the city.
After a year’s worth of efforts by the selection committee and the two arts organizations that submitted proposals—the Chico Art Center and the Old Municipal Building Partners (CARD, Friends of the Arts and Janet Turner Gallery)—the city’s plan has imploded.
Yet, at the Jan. 27 meeting, as it looked like all was lost and new proposals would be sought, the City Council picked a motion out of the ashes of the current applicants’ proposals that might actually have a chance. Leaning on CARD’s experience in the area of building maintenance and handling public facilities, City Councilmember Coleen Jarvis motioned to have that agency try to meet the criteria of the selection committee as well as a list of City Council addendums and bring the matter back to the council.
The process has left many involved shaking their heads, and has at this juncture made moot much of the work that went into it in the first place.
“It’s such a huge disappointment,” said selection committee member Gregg Payne, echoing a common sentiment. “They set up the selection committee to save themselves from all this grief.”
The committee applied its City Council-approved criteria to the two proposals and in August of last year passed on the Chico Art Center’s plan to the City Council. At that meeting, Community Development Director Tony Baptiste suggested that, based on revenue concerns in the Chico Art Center’s proposal, both should be sent on to the finance committee for further review. The City Council unanimously agreed and sent the matter on to the Internal Affairs Committee.
Then the tension began. Once internal affairs reviewed both revised proposals and brought them back to City Council, a motion was put forth that the applicants get together and present a joint proposal. If they couldn’t, the application process would reopen for new proposals. Both the citizen’s committee and the Chico Art Center said they were confused as to why both proposals were being considered.
“For staff to send both proposals to City Council was ridiculous,” said Chico Art Center President Daniel Donnelly. “Before [Baptiste] sent both of them, he had us fix that part [about revenue concerns].”
Donnelly suggested that the citizen committee should have been able to just look over the revamped proposal, and decide if its recommendation still stood.
Jarvis said the selection committee failed to submit any backup for why they recommended the Chico Art Center, that it kept saying it had a “unanimous vote,” but didn’t show how each proposal scored on the list of 15 criteria.
With double weight given to the first five criteria, applicants were to meet requirements ranging from “Appeal to a Broad Base of Community” to “Tenants Ability to Demonstrate Sustainability.”
But once the city saw both proposals the selection committee was out of the picture. As Baptiste saw it, “There were excellent components to both proposals, and City Council was optimistic [about a compromise].”
The Chico Art Center’s proposal was basically an upgrade of its current operation, with gallery space for local artists and community workshops at the heart of the proposal. The OMB proposal included similar, yet more limited community components, but also had the strength of CARD’s experience and the allure of a more suitable home for the highly regarded Janet Turner Print Museum, now being housed at CSU, Chico. Plus, the two partners would bring to the table an annual $92,000.
The mediation, facilitated by attorney Carl Leverenz, failed to bring about the anticipated compromise and left the City Council with the unappetizing option of tossing both proposals.
CARD’s ascension to the leader position in this quest pretty much assures that the OMB partnership will end up winning the bid. CSUC Humanities chair Sara Blackstone has assured that if CARD’s board decides at its Feb. 19 meeting to move forward with the proposal process (CARD President Mary Cayhill “anticipates that the board will be supportive") that “the Janet Turner Gallery will be a part of that.” And while both the Friends of the Arts and Chico Art Center have been invited by CARD to be a part of the new proposal, only Friends has agreed to jump on board.
According to Chico Art Center board member Dave Lawton, “the board has decided to step back from the project… Having a large gallery space was our main reason [for getting involved].”
While CARD does have the management experience, and seems willing to be inclusive and meet the City Council’s demands, no one is celebrating just yet. When asked if she was hopeful at the prospect of being a part of a new downtown art center, Friends of the Arts president Debra Lucero was very cautious: "Until it goes before the City Council, I really can’t say."