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Flores Seeks Cut in Lease Fee for Floating Museum


Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores has urged the Harbor Department to negotiate a "more reasonable" lease for the merchant ship Lane Victory, after learning a proposed agreement was too expensive for the nonprofit group that has turned the vessel into a floating merchant marine museum.

"I want the port to remember this is a nonprofit group . . . and that it brings some glory, some honor and some recognition to the port itself," she said. "Hopefully, there are some benefits that you can't measure in money alone."

Flores also has criticized the port for proposing a lease so confusing that even port officials disagreed about what it would require.

The latest developments in the search for a permanent home for the Lane Victory came Tuesday during a brief status report to the council's Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Flores chairs.

During the meeting, Mark Richter, the port's assistant property manager, said the port had offered a 10-year lease at Berth 53 to the ship's owner, the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II. The Long Beach-based group was given the 1945 vessel by Congress two years ago and is restoring it as a museum and memorial at Berth 52.

Under the terms of the lease, Richter said, the port would not charge the nonprofit group for use of a wharf adjacent to Berth 53, but would expect a fee of $7,600-a-month for the first five years of the agreement and $14,600-a-month for the last five years of the lease. The Lane Victory could move to Berth 53 when a lease is signed.

But those terms conflicted with earlier descriptions of the lease, which showed the veterans group in addition would be expected to pay 5% of its gross receipts to the harbor in the last five years of the 10-year lease. Those terms were spelled out both in a June 5 letter to the veterans group from Michael Lemke, Richter's boss, and a July 23 memo to Flores from Harbor Commission Secretary Peter Mandia.

In either case, the veterans told Flores, the lease terms were too expensive for the group, which only recently began charging visitors $2 to tour the Lane Victory. Without a less expensive lease, a group official said, 90% of the first year revenues collected from visitors would go toward berthing the Lane Victory.

The confusion over the actual offer by the port and the cost of either lease arrangement to the veterans group led Flores to ask that the port return to negotiations on a lease for the Lane Victory. "It seems to me something more favorable can be worked out," Flores said.

The councilwoman said she was particularly miffed that the port would charge a nonprofit organization such an unreasonable rate.

"I think the community and the organization and the City Council and the mayor view this as a nonprofit memorial and not as a moneymaker for them or the port," Flores said. "And I thought that's what the negotiations were based on."

Flores asked port officials to return to the committee next month with a status report on the lease.

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