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After extensive debate at its March 23 meeting, the City Council approved an “agreement-in-principle” with the Broad Foundation ­­­toward a potential Modern Art Museum in Santa Monica. The action allows the city to move forward in negotiations with the foundation.

An agreements-in-principle provides a framework for eventual agreements between two entities. In the City’s view, this agreement does not necessarily preclude the possibility of additional points of negotiation further along in the process.

If understanding this seems difficult, don’t worry the Council debated its nature at length before voting. At one point, three of the six councilmembers present were reluctant to vote in favor of the agreement-in-principle.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown used an analogy that an agreement-in-principle is similar to human courtship rituals: Before people get married, they affirm their intent to proceed in a relationship.

“This is not the time for the legal particulars of a prenuptial agreement,” McKeown said.

The agreement-in-principle envisions the Broad Foundation building a world-class public museum as the home of the Broad’s art collection and the international headquarters of The Broad Art Foundation’s worldwide lending program. The operating expenses of that facility would be covered by a $200 million yearly endowment. It also stipulates a partnership between the center and collaboration with local schools.

The agreement-in-principle also provides for the Foundations to reimburse any City expenditures in the event the Foundations chooses to locate the museum outside Santa Monica.

The City’s commitment at this stage is to provide 2.5 acres in the Civic Center for the museum and expediting all permits and approvals; contributing $1 million toward the museum design; and absorbing most fees and paying for any off-site environmental mitigation.

Ultimately, Councilmember Bobby Shriver was the lone vote against the agreement.

“I don’t think the deal is smart enough yet,” Shriver said. “It’s great concept, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get a great deal.”

Shriver went on to question whether the city should open the proposed site to other bidders, to see if the City could get a better deal than agreement-in-principle describes.

“(Eli Broad is) negotiating with other cities, why shouldn’t we be negotiating with other billionaire art collectors?” he said. “I don’t think Broad would be discouraged, he’s a tough (business) guy.”

City Manager Rod Gould reminded the Council that they must vote to approve a final agreement (if it comes to that) before construction would ever begin. Approval of the measure authorizes the City Manager and staff to move forward with negotiations with two additional directives not in the agreement-in-principle:

1. The Council was would prefer the Broad Foundation allow a City representative to be on Foundation Board. This would help with the Council’s second contention:

2. That a formal process be articulated regarding the acquisition and de-acquisition of pieces in the future.

A third point discussed, but not explicitly directed to the City Manager, was that more than 30,000 square feet of the 110,000 squarefoot facility be allocated to public exhibition space.

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