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Questions Linger Over Bergamot Station Growth

Art: Though an ownership fight is over, plans to install the Santa Monica Museum of Art and several new galleries next to the complex are still under discussion.


Life goes on at Bergamot Station, where about 20 art dealers ply their trade and the public turns out in droves for special openings, but questions persist about the continuing development of the sprawling gallery complex.

The recent court dissolution of the two-dealer partnership that had governed Bergamot during its first three years and a subsequent agreement last week that financial backer Tom Patchett will sell his interest in the complex to project developer Wayne Blank for$1.5 million--plus undisclosed concessions--have left the galleries intact.

But plans to install the Santa Monica Museum of Art and eight or nine new galleries on an adjacent strip of property are still under discussion. The existing galleries are located on city-owned property, while the undeveloped land was jointly purchased by Patchett and Blank. Under the new arrangement, Blank is the sole owner.

The museum vacated its former home on Main Street several months ago in preparation for the Bergamot move and it has raised about $250,000 to finance its share of construction and finishing costs. Negotiations were about 95% complete before litigation to dissolve the partnership began, museum director Tom Rhoads said, but the museum declined to finalize the deal until the court battle was resolved.

Blank and Rhoads said they plan to resume negotiations in a meeting on Friday. If all goes well, they could have a deal. Then construction could proceed and the museum could be operating as early as the end of the year.

But one sticking point has already arisen: rent. Under a preliminary agreement made before the court decision, the museum would have been charged $8,000 a month, or 80 cents a square foot, for the 10,000-square-foot structure, but a comfortable cushion was provided--the museum would have been allowed to stay in the space for five years by paying as little as $3,000 a month, or 30 cents a square foot, and deferring the balance. However, 60% of the balance would have been due before the museum could renew its lease, Rhodes said.

Rhoads said he hopes Blank would honor the rent agreement, but Blank claims he can no longer afford to do so, now that he has taken on the full financial burden of developing the additional property, which he estimates will cost him $4 million. Although the rent will remain at $8,000, Blank said he must raise the minimum monthly payment but declined to disclose the new figure. Details of the museum's construction also await resolution.

Meanwhile, both Blank and Rhoads say they are making every effort to get the project back on track. Blank, who is responsible for basic tenant improvements on the rudimentary museum building's walls, roof and floor, said he has already started construction. While expressing regret that litigation had put several artists' exhibitions on hold, Rhoads said: "Now that the case has been resolved, I hope we can move ahead."

The first public indication of trouble at Bergamot came in June 1996, when Patchett filed suit to dissolve his partnership with Blank, charging that Blank had misappropriated and commingled joint funds, and disregarded Patchett's rights as a limited partner. In a July 21 ruling this year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Frances Rothschild did not find Blank guilty of fraud but she dissolved the partnership on grounds that it was impractical and ordered the two protagonists to work out a new operating arrangement. The new agreement requires Blank to pay Patchett $570,000 by March 31 and follow up with a total of $930,000 over five years.

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