Art, archives top council agenda

League gets new home, museum could expand
By: Patty McAlpin Lincoln News Messenger reporter
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City Council unanimously voted to lease two city-owned buildings to nonprofit organizations. The five council members gave the Lincoln Area Archives Museum permission to be on the entire first floor of the former City Hall at 640 Fifth St. The museum currently occupies the east side of the building. The council agreed to pay $400 toward electricity expenses based on the amount the city paid on average when the building stood vacant. Anything beyond that would be the responsibility of the Archives Museum to pay. The council agreed to lease the former PG&E building at 580 Sixth St. to the Art League of Lincoln on a month-to-month basis for $1 a year plus utilities but the property will still be “marketed passively” to find a market-rate tenant. The city will not actively seek tenants but will allow the property to be listed with Realtors and answer questions of interested parties approaching the city. Deciding how parking around the building at 580 Sixth St. will be allocated is yet to be decided. Lincoln City Attorney Jon Hobbs will draft agreements with details specified for both properties and bring them back to the City Council for approval. Councilman Tom Cosgrove cautioned the council that the city may have to absorb the cost or boot out the tenant if a nonprofit organization is unable to raise money to pay utility costs. “Neither is pleasant,” Cosgrove said. Lincoln Area Archives Museum executive director Shirley Russell said she cannot guarantee that the organization will raise enough money to cover utilities for the whole first floor. The museum budgeted $12,000 last year for utilities, Russell said, but the bill can total more than $1,000 per month during the summer. The Archives Museum was relocated by the city from the Civic Center due to renovation projects and opened its doors in the former City Hall building this past Feb. 3. Art League of Lincoln President Paul Apfel requested that the city give the Art League the same deal as the council gave the previous tenant, Lincoln Arts, which leased the former PG&E building for $1 a year. “We’ll pay the utilities,” Apfel said. Apfel estimated the organization needs $1,100 to fix up the building. That amount includes costs to cover utilities, insurance, communications and some property improvements. Apfel expressed regret that there was no annual Feats of Clay event this year but promised “there will be an event to rival Feats of Clay in 2013.” The art league is actively working with Gladding McBean toward that end, according to Apfel. In addition, Apfel said, the art league looks forward to the opportunity to host exhibits. “We want to make Lincoln an art destination,” Apfel said. Lincoln Councilman Paul Joiner asked Apfel if the organization has applied for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service. Apfel said the organization has applied and should “ hear from the IRS around Sept. 15.” Joiner asked the city attorney if leasing the building to the Art League could be considered a gift of public funds. Hobbs said there is no issue as long as there is an identified public purpose. The Art League of Lincoln and the Archives Museum will help draw potential businesses downtown Lincoln, according to Mayor Spencer Short. Councilman Gabriel Hydrick said he favored leasing the buildings because cost recovery for the city “is a ways off.” City staff was previously asked by City Council to present the council with research about the possibility of selling or leasing the building at 580 Sixth St. The average lease rate could be $2,026 per month and the average sale price could be $216,865, according to a city staff report presented by Amanda Norton, the city’s housing and special projects coordinator. To maintain the 1,817-square-foot vacant building the city pays on average $23 per month for electricity and $120 per month for water, sewer and garbage. For the old City Hall building, the city solicited nonprofit organizations that might be interested in using the space. Lighthouse Counseling and Family Resource Center, the Archives Museum and Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce contacted the city. Lighthouse asked to use the second floor as office space, free of cost. The Archives Museum expressed interest in expanding to occupy the entire first floor. The Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce is interested in using part of the building if its current building at 540 F St. must be sold as part of the dissolution of the former Redevelopment Agency of the city of Lincoln assets. Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Romness said the size is a trade off. The building the chamber is currently in is 900 square feet. “I could see sharing the second floor conference room,” Romness said. Norton said the cost for utilities for those occupying the old City Hall building could be prorated based on square footage. When the building was vacant, Norton said, it cost the city on average $409 per month for the PG&E bill. The average cost when the building was fully used was $1,862 per month. The current average cost for electricity and gas is $1,078 per month. The cost for city utilities is $79 per month. “When the building was fully utilized, the estimate would be approximately $. 20 per square foot (average utility cost $1,941/9,900 square feet) to cover utility costs,” Norton said. “This estimated rate for utilities is based on the entire square footage of the building including common areas such as lobbies, restrooms, stair wells, and the conference room and assumes the whole building is rented. With fewer tenants, the costs for utilities would increase per square foot as there is no way to fully separate the different sections of the building.”