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Editorial

Eli Broad's museum: It deserves a 'yes' from the city

The deal to put his art museum in downtown L.A. is fair and would benefit the city.

June 14, 2010

Eli Broad, Los Angeles' leading philanthropist, is asking the city and county to give him a piece of property downtown for an art museum to house his collection — a museum he's offering to build and endow. As they consider that request, the Board of Supervisors, the City Council and other agencies of local government should base their decisions not on what is best for Broad but on what best serves the public. And they should approve this deal.

There is no direct cost to the public in Broad's proposal. He is offering to spend $100 million to build a museum, and then to contribute an additional $200 million to endow it so that its operating costs will be privately paid as well. But that's not to say it's entirely a freebie: By giving Broad the land for the museum via a 99-year lease at $1 a year, the public loses the chance to develop it in other ways — retail, for instance, or housing — that could generate sales and property taxes.

That opportunity cost, however, must be considered against the public benefits —cultural and economic — of such a museum. The city and county would get a sizable art collection and what would probably be a first-rate architectural monument. The new museum could realistically be expected to draw tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of tourists a year and would create more than 1,000 construction jobs as well as full- and part-time positions once it's complete, according to estimates by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. Moreover, the museum could be expected to boost the value of the property around it; that's why Related Cos., which is struggling to develop the area in this economy, supports the project.

Nor does the proposal represent a departure from what the public typically does to support the arts. The city gives the Museum of Contemporary Art free use of its Grand Avenue site, and the Geffen Contemporary operates under the same lease arrangement that Broad is seeking. The Norton Simon Museum pays Pasadena $1 a year, and the county contributes more than $20 million a year to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Indeed, so attractive is Broad's proposal that Santa Monica already has promised him essentially the same terms for a site in its civic center.

We're pleased that Broad is inclined to put his museum somewhere in the region, and we're agnostic as to whether it ends up in Santa Monica or downtown. Broad favors downtown, in part because he believes the museum would complement the collection of architecture that dominates the area around the civic center. That's certainly worth keeping in mind — it is, after all, his art and will be his building. For the city and county, the issue is a simple one: If they want this building downtown, they have before them a deal that is squarely in the public interest.

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