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A Legal Brush at Bergamot Station

Art: As a power struggle flares between two partners, both sides say they're committed to the center's smooth operation.

July 25, 1996|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two feuding partners in Santa Monica's Bergamot Station art complex both believe it's time for the other one to relinquish his power.

Attorneys for TV producer Tom Patchett and Wayne Blank, the two developers of Santa Monica's 2-year-old Bergamot Station, say that an ongoing control battle between their clients will not affect operations at the popular arts community center--but could significantly alter the power structure behind the scenes.

As a result of what some Bergamot gallery owners call a long-brewing struggle, it was revealed earlier this week that Bergamot's limited partner, TV writer-producer Patchett, filed a June 13 suit against Bergamot general partner Blank. Patchett is seeking to dissolve the partnership responsible for creating Bergamot Station--which opened in 1994 on city-owned land designated for a future Metro Rail development and has grown into an arts hub of 21 art galleries, offices for nine architecture firms, a framing shop and a cafe. Bergamot is said to be largely responsible for breathing new life into a bleak warehouse district.

Both Patchett and Blank say they remain committed to Bergamot's survival.

Patchett's attorney, Arthur J. Cohen, said that Patchett no longer wishes to remain in partnership with Blank. He said possible options are to oust Blank and bring in a new general partner or to split Bergamot management right down the middle--with Patchett retaining ownership of his own gallery, known as Track 16, and Blank retaining ownership of his gallery, Shoshona Wayne, and each one overseeing some portion of the rest.

The partners lease Bergamot station from the city for $35,000 a month and sublease gallery space to individuals for rates substantially lower than the going rate for space in traditional gallery locations such as Hollywood, Melrose or downtown.

Blank's attorney, Gerard Soussan (who is Blank's stepson-in-law), said Blank wants to remain in the partnership but is more than willing to let Patchett out of the deal if they cannot reach an agreement--"there are other people who would be more than happy to step into his shoes," Soussan said.

Among other things, Patchett's suit accuses Blank of "persistent and pervasive fraud, abuse of authority and persistent unfairness," including misappropriation of partnership funds, commingling of partnership funds with other entities and borrowing of partnership funds without Patchett's consent. Cohen declined to offer any specifics.

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In a telephone interview, Patchett said: "This is basically a business dispute between partners, a difference of opinion. [The result] could be any one of three or four things, one of which would be the removal of the general partner, one of which would be dissolution of the partnerships and their assets. Beyond that, not being a lawyer, judge or fortuneteller, I don't know what the possibilities are. I only know that it was necessary to take this action."

Blank has not yet responded to the suit; Soussan said he plans to respond by an Aug. 19 deadline and to file counterclaims.

Soussan said Blank would have no comment on the matter but called Patchett's charges groundless and said that accusing Blank of "persistent and pervasive fraud" is nothing more than a legal ploy. "If you look at corporate codes, the only grounds he can find legally is pervasive fraud, and that is why he is claiming pervasive fraud," Soussan said. "There is no such thing.

"I think that he [Patchett] wants to acquire control, or partial control, of Bergamot Station. We don't believe he has any grounds to seek dissolution of the partnership."

Bergamot gallery owners expressed little concern over the issue this week. Museum executive director Tom Rhoads confirmed that negotiations continue for the Santa Monica Museum to move to Bergamot Station despite the controversy.

Patricia Faure Gallery owner Patricia Faure said, "I really don't know the details, I don't know who exactly is being accused of what. . . . It's been brewing for a long time and has been talked about a little bit, but I think it involves just these two people."

Faure added that she doesn't "think it would be good" for Bergamot if the partners decide to divide management of the galleries into two camps. "I don't know what is going to happen, I only know that it has been a very terrific thing for my gallery to be here," she said. Faure was formerly a partner in the Asher/Faure Gallery in West Hollywood. "It was sort of a lifesaver--I ended up with a better space and a bigger space for a lot less money. It's been really wonderful and I hope it's going to stay."

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