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Finances Imperil High-Rise Plans of L.B. Museum

June 19, 1988|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A plan by the Long Beach Museum of Art to relocate in a downtown high-rise appears to be all but doomed.

Museum officials say they will meet with a representative of the city manager's office within two weeks to find out why their institution was not included in the construction plans for an $85-million building project approved last Monday by the Redevelopment Agency.

Unless the museum can come up with definite financing almost immediately, according to the developer and city officials, it will be left out of the project.

"I'm already in the process of designing the project without it," said Charles Peck, president of Cushman Investment & Development Corp., which is planning the 24-story Landmark Square office building at Ocean Boulevard and Pacific Avenue. "If somebody comes flying in the door (with a solid museum financing plan) we'd be prepared to start over, but in order to stick to the schedule we've agreed to, I'm already under way."

Meeting Thursday

The building project is scheduled for consideration by the city's Planning Commission on Thursday with construction to begin in December.

"It looks like (the museum move) won't happen," said Gail Wasil, an administrative analyst for the city's Community Development Department.

The proposed relocation has been under discussion since last August when the City Council approved Landmark Square with a stipulation that it include space for the museum. About 30,000 square feet of such space could be provided, Peck said, atop the five-story parking garage next to the proposed office tower.

But constructing the museum there would cost an estimated $4.6 million to $5 million, planners say. The developer promised to provide $800,000. Museum foundation officials said they could raise about $2 million. The rest, all agreed, would have to come from the city.

Two months ago, museum officials asked City Council members to sell the city-owned building that the museum has occupied since the 1950s--a quaint brick structure overlooking the shoreline on Ocean Boulevard. Proceeds from the sale--perhaps as much as $2 million--could be used to pay for the city's portion of the relocation costs, they argued.

But city officials balked at the idea, referring it to the city manager for further study. And members of the community objected, characterizing the museum's present home as a familiar landmark that ought to be preserved for public use. "(It's become) a red herring," museum director Stephen Garrett now says of the proposed sale. "I don't think it's really an option."

Later, a series of controversies involving key museum volunteers and patrons raised questions regarding the foundation's ability to fulfill its own fund-raising commitment. The unceremonious termination of a longtime employee in April resulted in dozens of protests and some membership cancellations. Then last month, the museum council's entire six-member board of directors--a group of volunteers responsible for increasing museum attendance and attracting new members--resigned en masse to protest the handling of a summer concert series.

"The feeling has been that a new museum should be an investment made by the community," Wasil said. "If you don't have community interest, it doesn't seem appropriate to have the city foot the bill."

Garrett says he is still committed to a downtown move for the museum, which he believes suffers from inadequate space, lack of good parking and an almost inaccessible location. "Long Beach as a city has developed very significantly and the museum has not kept pace," he said. "We would like to create a museum more in keeping with the city generally."

Alternative Suggestion

But Councilman Wallace Edgerton, whose district includes the museum's present site, said he was relieved that the Landmark Square arrangements for the museum appears to be falling through.

"I don't think it's a good idea to stick a museum in the middle of a major commercial development downtown," he said. "That's not the ambiance you want; the ambiance of a museum should be casual and unhurried."

Instead of an urban location downtown, Edgerton said, he would favor the relocation of the museum to a free-standing building constructed on public land, perhaps in a city-owned park such as El Dorado Regional Park. To do that, he said, the city would first have to designate the site, then set up a trust fund by which to spend several years raising the necessary funds.

"We've got to get away from this American cultural attitude of the quick fix," the councilman said. "Why not go for the kind of structure that will have a lasting impact on the generations ahead of us?"

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