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Cities compete for Broad museum : Santa Monica and Beverly Hills vie for the billionaire's art center as plans expand.

November 16, 2009|Mike Boehm

Art collector and philanthropist Eli Broad has nearly doubled the size of the museum he intends to build on the Westside for his 2,000-piece collection of contemporary art, and the cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are vying to be its home.

He will also create a $200-million endowment that would generate $12 million a year to operate the privately run, nonprofit institution. The only bigger single cash donation to the arts in Southern California history would be J. Paul Getty's initial $700-million 1976 bequest to establish the J. Paul Getty Trust -- $2.65 billion in today's dollars.

Broad said that he isn't trying to play the two municipalities against each other -- and added that there is a third possible location that he declined to name. The billionaire said he hopes that by talking to several different cities he can accelerate the process of building the headquarters for his Broad Art Foundation.

"We don't want this to go on indefinitely, which can happen when you're dealing with cities," Broad said as he prepared to preside as co-chairman over the local art world's big event of the season, Saturday night's 30th anniversary gala for the Museum of Contemporary Art. "It could be three years, and I'm 76 years of age."

Nevertheless, the move by Broad to fast-track the development pitted officials of the two cities against each other in competition to land a brand-new cultural jewel.

Kevin McKeown, a Santa Monica city councilman, said, "I'll do everything I can to make this happen."

He said council members learned about the Broad proposal Friday when they received a report from the city manager.

"I think what Santa Monica has to offer is an incredible audience, a prime location and willingness to work with the Broads," McKeown said.

Cheryl Burnett, the city of Beverly Hills' spokeswoman, issued a statement Saturday making it clear that Beverly Hills is in it to win. "While we recognize that the Broad Foundation has many options. . . . There's no better place than Beverly Hills to showcase this world-class contemporary art collection."

Broad had approached Beverly Hills about building his museum at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard. A year ago, Joanne Heyler, director of the Broad Art Foundation, said two other sites were under consideration, with plans for a 25,000-square-foot museum, plus space for the foundation offices and a storage and research area for the works not on display.

Santa Monica officials approached him several months ago, Broad said, and proposed that he build on 2.5 acres of city-owned land next to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

The plan, outlined in a report by City Manager P. Lamont Ewell, calls for the city to lease the land to Broad's foundation for a "token" amount, to kick in about $1 million for design and construction, to provide parking, and to plant and continue to maintain the museum's exterior landscaping.

The report says Broad wants the city to absorb the project's permit costs and pay for the required environmental impact review.

Additionally, Broad and the city will discuss a possible $6-million sale of the existing Broad Art Foundation building in Santa Monica to the city. The 1927 vintage building isn't big enough to house all of Broad's art, and because of parking problems it never has been open to the public.

The tone of the Santa Monica city manager's report is both enthusiastic and urgent.

"The benefits of the proposal are readily apparent," Ewell writes -- "a world-class cultural amenity . . . [that] would significantly advance city policies that strongly favor promoting the arts and fostering cultural opportunities." Broad, Ewell wrote, would hire "an internationally renowned architect."

The city manager added that, because swift action is important as Broad weighs where to plant his museum, it would be wise to avoid bureaucratic red tape, "consistent with complete transparency and full public review."

The City Council is scheduled to discuss at its meeting Tuesday whether to launch formal negotiations with Broad.

The conceptual drawings for the Beverly Hills museum, delivered to city officials last month, show a much bigger project than the original proposal: a 126,600-square-foot, three-story building with the footprint of an arrow pointing east.

Of that, a museum of about 43,000 square feet and an adjoining 6,100-square-foot outdoor sculpture court would occupy the top floor, compared with the first proposal's total 25,000 square feet of exhibition space. An additional 67,000 square feet would provide an "archive" for the art not on display and offices for all three Broad foundations -- for art, education and medical research.

An additional 10,000 square feet of commercial space was requested by the city, Broad said, to spur street life along one of the adjoining streets, Little Santa Monica Boulevard; about a third of that retail area would be for the museum's restaurant and store.

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