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City Council to Choose Operator for Airport Arts Complex


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December 17, 2018 -- A battle over control of an artist's complex at a Santa Monica Airport hangar will come to a head Tuesday when the City Council is expected to replace its original leaseholder.

Staff is recommending the Council terminate the lease held by Santa Monica Art Studios (SMAS) since 2014, when artist Yossi Govrin turned what supporters say was a dirty "pigeon-infested" hangar at 3026 Airport Avenue into a thriving privately owned artist complex.

The 18th Street Arts Center, a local nonprofit organization with ties to the City, was chosen by an evaluation committee last month to take over under a proposed $1.25 million five-year lease.

Santa Monica Art Studios
Santa Monica Art Studios (Courtesy SMAS)

The Center, staff said, "best meets the RFP (Request for Proposal)selection criteria and public objectives of both supporting local artists and enriching the lives of the general public through the arts."

Govrin -- who submitted a proposal under his newly formed MAXIMA Art Initiative (MAXIMA) -- is not going down without a fight.

He appealed the City's decision, arguing the RFP process had numerous flaws and the committee's decision to place MAXIMA third among the three applicants was "unfair and unjustifiable." (Govrin lost the appeal.)

He and his supporters also lobbied the Arts Commission, which vote 6-1 in favor of recommending his MAXIMA proposal with an increased budget. (Staff said the Commission has no say in the decision-making process).

They also circulated a petition on to "Protect Yossi Govrin's vision" for the arts complex that garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

And they lobbied the local media.

"Dear Editor," Govrin wrote, "I am reaching out to you today in the hopes that you will help me shed light on a grossly unjust situation that both myself, and the community I have built, have been unfairly thrust into."

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Attached was a letter from MAXIMA's board of directors.

The letter said the City "did not seek to collaborate with Govrin whose private business it is nor to offer to buy the business that he created since 1985 in order to take over management.

"Yes the hangar at 3026 Airport Ave is the City’s property, however the business of SMAS is not nor is its intellectual property," the board wrote.

Staff notes that the City -- which entered into a month-to-month lease with Santa Monica Art Studios after its 10-year lease expired in June 2014 -- adopted a policy that prohibits subleasing at the Airport.

The new leasing policy approved by the Council in March 2016, staff said, "required a change in the current leasing arrangement with SMAS, who was operating as a master tenant."

The City also reached an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in February 2017 to close down the airport by the end of 2018 that requires non-aviation Airport tenants to be charged market rate, staff said.

"To comply with these requirements going forward, the artists will need to lease directly from the Airport Administration and pay market rents set on an equal, transparent basis," staff wrote.

Staff added that the change "is anticipated to lower the rents for a majority of the artists."

The 18th Street Arts Center, staff wrote, presented a "programming plan (that) is specific, realistic, and yet innovative."

The Center's proposal "includes a carefully crafted budget that supplements the City’s budget with substantial existing and new funding sources," staff said.

MAXIMA's board argues that choosing the 18th Street Arts Center leaves only one other art organization in the City -- Bergamot Station.

"This follows a general trend of the City of Santa Monica losing smaller private businesses due to increasing rents," the board wrote.

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