Arts Commission's Plans for Cheap Airport Spaces Likely Won't Fly
By Teresa Rochester
At a time when artists are looking to Santa Monica Airport as their last resort for affordable work spaces, the City is poised to put in place a leasing policy that may force all artists out.
Much to the chagrin of artists desperate to find affordable studio spaces, the Airport Commission Monday night will consider a leasing policy for all non-aviation buildings that will hike rents up to 90 percent of the market value by Jan.1, 2002 in order to make the airport self-sufficient.
The Airport Commission vote comes exactly one week after the Arts Commission voted to urge the City Council to lease airport work spaces to artists at lower than market rates in an effort to stem an exodus of artists from the city. While the proposed rates are technically lower than market, arts supporters predict artists won't be able to afford them.
"I'm sure that many artists will be forced out," said former Arts Commissioner Bruria Finkel, a practicing artist who once had a studio at the airport. "To me it's important that staff find opportunities for artists rather than artists finding more hardship.
"I believe the airport is an excellent place for artists because the light is very favorable and the space is quite favorable," Finkel said. "Those hangers can easily be transformed into work studios for artists.... We will have to move heaven and earth to make sure it happens."
Currently most of the spaces at the airport rented by artists go for well below market rates. But artists aren't the only ones who rent the airport's non-aviation space. Restaurants, technology based businesses and business support groups also rent space there on a month-to-month basis.
Airport Staff, in a report released last week, say the rents must be increased to fulfill requirements for an Airport Improvement Project grant given out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). One of the grant's provisions is that "the non-aviation land leases must be at or near market value.
"The FAA AIP Grant Assurances (which the city is obligated to observe) require the Airport to maintain a schedule of charges, fees and lease terms that will make the airport 'self-sustaining,'" according to the report.
City officials were unavailable to comment on whether or not the grant application has been filed yet and how much is being requested. Also not included in the staff report is what the grant money will be used for.
Other airports have used the money for runway or terminal improvements and to enhance customer service, a FAA spokesman said.
The staff report states that an airport cannot receive the grant if it is relying on subsidies from the Federal, State or local government and that non-aviation leases -- such as those for artists spaces and restaurants -- should be self-sufficient. Airport expenses not only include approximately $1.7 million in operating costs but also more than $1 million annually for capital improvements.
An appraisal last year showed that a majority of non-aviation lease rates were well below market value, ranging from 47 cents a square foot to $1.47. The plan that will go before the Airport Commission Monday night will call for the rates to increase to 70 percent of a July 1999 appraisal market rate by Jan. 1, 2001 (hiking rents up to between 84 cents and $1.40 a square foot).
An increase to 80 percent of market rate will kick in on July 1, 2001 (to between 96 cents and $1.56) and a final increase of 90 percent on Jan 1, 2002 (to between $1.08 and $1.80). Along with the higher rents, renters will be offered longer leases.
The new leasing policy will bring the airport more in line with leasing policies in the rest of the city, according to the staff report.
"The intent of these leasing policies is to provide consistent and efficient operational guidelines and procedures that combine established principles of good public property leasing management with the implementation and maintenance of city policies and objectives," the report states.
The proposed leasing policy flies in the face of an Arts Commission proposal scheduled to be presented to the council September 19 which emphasizes the need for short-term solutions to an accelerating exodus of artists, which is being fueled by a heated real estate market. In the past several months, Santa Monica has lost more than half of its 156 live work and studio spaces.
As a top priority, the commission is urging the council to lease work spaces at Santa Monica airport to artists at lower than market rates. According to the commission's direction, fine artists and performance artists would "be awarded priority over the city's current position, which favors maximum yield of rent."
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