Opinion: Bergamot Will Live

Posted May 25, 2016 by The Argonaut in Columns

The city does not intend to destroy the arts center, but resisting all change isn’t an option either

By Kevin McKeown

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown

The author is a Santa Monica City Councilmember responding to “Bergamot Must Die,” an opinion piece by Charlies Rappleye that ran in the May 19 edition of the Argonaut.

Mr. Rappleye skillfully culled quotes to make his point, while failing to offer readers any context. Some of the relevant background, which explains more fairly the situation at Bergamot, is in this statement I sent to residents and other constituents who’ve contacted me recently about the issue:

Thank you for your interest in the future of the Bergamot Arts Center. I am a five-term councilmember who for over a decade served as the City Council’s designated liaison to the Santa Monica Arts Commission.

Many of those who’ve written seem to have the impression the Arts Center is threatened with being replaced by a commercial development. That is not the situation.

Bergamot Arts Center was created two decades ago on land bought with transportation funding to accommodate a future light rail facility. We in Santa Monica were thrilled when the interim use, letting old industrial buildings be used for art galleries, succeeded beyond expectations and the Bergamot Arts Center gained international renown.

This month, a $1.5-billion regional transportation investment brings light rail service to the newly constructed Bergamot Station. This means more people arriving at the Arts Center than ever before. It also means that after two decades of “interim” use, we are tasked with making the Arts Center permanent.

Our lease with the prior operator is about to expire. We are planning to build a museum space to replace the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which we invited to return after the owner of the property adjacent to city land raised their rent beyond what they could pay. They have chosen to relocate to downtown Los Angeles, instead. Other improvements are necessary to adapt the current facilities on the site to a new role as a light rail hub, not an out-of-the-way parcel of land “on hold.”

Further, we must now confront our responsibility to not only protect the Bergamot Arts Center, but create revenue-generating operations on the site so we can generate funds for transportation purposes, which our originally having purchased the land with transportation money now requires us to do.

Clearly this is a daunting task, with many interests to be balanced. We have had an inclusive public process underway for several years. That stalled about a year and a half ago when it became clear consensus on moving forward had not yet been achieved. Visit  www.mckeown.net/bergamot to see and hear my thoughts on that point in September 2014.

Since then, we HAVE switched partners, and we HAVE convened a community committee to advise us that included many of the gallerists at Bergamot. The matter will return to the City Council at some point, although a date has not yet been set (and therefore all the letters we’ve been receiving are somewhat premature).

Unfortunately, some participants in the process have hardened their stand that the answer is to resist all change and do nothing. That is simply not an option for the city of Santa Monica. We already are years behind in planning for Bergamot Station. The train, as of May 20, is already here.

I can assure you that I have heard your concerns, but also that the facts are somewhat less dire than many of you seem to have been led to believe. There is no intent to destroy Bergamot Arts Center. Whatever the city eventually decides to do, it will be with sensitivity
to the benefits we already enjoy from what is at the Bergamot Arts Center … but doing nothing to accommodate light rail and fulfill the transportation funding obligation is simply not an option that’s open to us.

Editor’s Note: The Argonaut made slight changes to the text of McKeown’s original email in order to clarify web links and chronology for our
print readers.



    Mr. McKeown is a true politician, obscuring the facts just enough to sound supportive and caring
    of the cultural future of the city of Santa Monica. When the Santa Monica Museum of Art was
    experiencing financial difficulties, the city council did absolutely nothing to assist this important
    cultural center. Referring to Bergamot Station Arts Center as “an out of the way parcel of land…”
    is an exquisite example of Mr. McKeown’s regard for the arts. Bergamot Station is the only venue
    in the city that encompasses a collection of galleries offering to the community diverse and lively exhibitions with a vital educational component.
    Moving forth with a commercial development is exactly what Mr. McKeown has in mind. The citizens of this city, not Mr. McKeown, will decide what is of more importance, the one existing arts center serving the community or more office buildings in a city that is already bursting and
    crammed with ‘creative office spaces’.

    Temma Nanas

    I am a current tenant at Bergamot Station. I am also a member of the Bergamot Union, the association of the on-site galleries and cultural businesses.

    Words such as “premature” and “dramatic” have been used to characterize the timing and level of tenant and community concern over Bergamot Station. As small business owners, when would be the appropriate time for us to start being concerned for the future and livelihood of our businesses, employees and the 100s of artists we sustain? The master lease held by Wayne Blank expires with the City December 31, 2017. The City has made no statement to the current tenants as to a specific plan for our leases and tenancy after this expiration. We remain in the dark and quite justifiably uncertain about our immediate future.

    There was a committee formed (Bergamot Advisory Committee- BAC) to make recommendations to the City for development of Bergamot Station. This committee convened alongside the commercial developer already chosen by the City to engage in a year-long exclusive negotiation for the site. Selecting and entering into negotiations with a commercial developer seems to clearly infer the “threat” of commercial development. Mr. McKeown inaccurately states that the 11-member BAC “included many of the gallerists”. The City initially only sought to have ONE representative of Bergamot Station to be apart of this committee. ONE! It was only after strong pushback that we were able to get 4 representatives on the committee. The fact that the City initially only saw fit to have one representative from Bergamot Station on this committee speaks volumes as to their view of the galleries/businesses relevance to this process. The gallery representation was in the minority of votes that threatened survival of Bergamot Station. It should be noted that the Bergamot representatives voted in favor of and with the majority in all community benefiting plans proposed.

    Mr. McKeown continues to proliferate the notion that the galleries are for “no change” and for doing “nothing at all”. This is simply not true. The galleries are supportive of improvement of the site and meaningful, managed cultivation of the property as the international arts center that it is. The preservation effort by the Bergamot Union is not self-serving. The Union seeks to protect and preserve the diverse local and international community of artists, employees, vendors, schools and other arts/cultural institutions that we sustain and support.

    The recommendations of the BAC, which the City will review “at some point” (more limbo), are not in keeping with the City’s first directive to the BAC, which was “to minimize displacement and disruption to the fine art galleries and other creative businesses on the Site”. We are well aware that these are only recommendations and that the City has not made any decisions, however, as long as these recommendations and the agenda of a powerful developer are in play, Bergamot Station is threatened.

    If Wayne Blank’s lease is not extended, the City should consider the Bergamot Union as the right partner in this effort to improve and lead Bergamot Station into the future. The Union is far better suited to the task than an outside developer. If the City is truly willing to preserve Bergamot Station and retain current tenancy by forgoing a potential large-scale construction project that would shut us down, then they should be inviting us to sit at the table with them in partnership to forge a meaningful and productive collaboration.


    Did you know that the developers plans for Bergamot includes 30,000 SQ FT of office space. We already have 420,000 SQ FT of office space coming nearby. And since when do art galleries mix with commercial space?

    Did you know that after the developer said they would not tear any buildings down except the T building the plan now is to tear down the A bldg as well.

    Did you know that the developers want to put in a 6-story hotel on the west side of our lot.That is why they want to tear down the “T” bldg.

    Did you know that the developers plan would obscure the line of vision for all the galleries as the number of new buildings, community center, museum, theater,office buildings restaurant and hotel
    would be standing in between all the galleries.

    Did you know there would be no on site parking, not for the metro, and not for the galleries.

    Did you know that the galleries can’t survive this scale of construction. Galleries can’t move and then come back. Once galleries move to another location expenses for more moving become prohibitive. It takes galleries time to get their clientele back after a move—if ever!

    Did you know that the galleries here serve over 500 “not for profits.”

    Did you know that students from all over the county come here every week to look and learn.

    Did you know the developer wants to have control over all the programming here. The developer who knows nothing about art.

    Did you know that the cities revenue through 2016-2017 is 571.9 million and yet they need more from the art galleries? Santa Barbara, an equally populated city, has a 293.4 budget.
    Did you know the City approved the new Arclight theater in downtown Santa Monica to replace a parking structure that was estimated to bring $1 million in revenue annually, and the Arclight theater is being subsidized so they will pay only about $8000 per month in rent? That is less than many of the galleries pay.

    Did you know that there are over 30 fine art galleries and unique cultural and educational businesses at Bergamot Station that cannot be duplicated anywhere.

    Did you know that most of the profit will go to a developer on public property from the current proposal instead of benefiting the City?

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