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‘Nobody wants to hurt BAM’: City, art museum work to negotiate new lease

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The City of Boise is hoping to put an end to the years of lease negotiations with the Boise Art Museum by summertime. 

On Tuesday, BAM Executive Director Melanie Fales and members of the museum’s Board of Trustees appeared before Boise City Council to make their case and try to hammer out a lease with the city for the museum in Julia Davis Park. The city and BAM struggled to agree on the terms of a lease since 2017 and the issue came to a head last month when Boise City Council opted to discontinue any financial support to the museum until a lease is signed.

To resolve the long-running conflict, Boise City Council members told BAM city staff will immediately put together a short-term lease agreement expiring by the end of July as a stop-gap. This would leave the city and the museum time to negotiate a long-term solution. 

“BAM does a tremendous amount for our community, but at the same time so does everyone else so we really need to reach an agreement where we have a leasehold agreement that legally protects everyone and ensures we’re being good stewards of our taxpayer dollars,” City Council President Pro Term Holli Woodings said during the work session. 

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‘Insurmountable difficulties’

Last summer, Boise City Council created a nonprofit lease policy with the goal of standardizing the leases with the 13 nonprofits renting city property. All but BAM agreed to the new terms, which include payment of a portion of the fair market rental value or $2,000 per month, lease terms up to ten years and a requirement for nonprofits to cover the cost of minor repairs and utilities. 

BAM currently pays $1 per year for rent and city staff said Boise gives the museum $45,000 annually to cover the cost of a full-time maintenance employee. Fales told City Council the terms of the proposal from the city create “insurmountable difficulties” and “threaten Boise Art Museum’s sustainability.”

“We believe our 90-year history deserves careful consideration that best serves our community into the future,” Fales told City Council. “Our desire is for a mutually beneficial and thoughtful agreement. We would like to devote the time and attention needed to create an enduring agreement that can serve and benefit future generations of Boise residents.”

Fales said BAM hired a professional appraiser to evaluate the condition of their building and its fair market rent, which is expected to be complete at the end of February. She suggested once that information comes in, BAM and city staff can meet again for more discussions. 

What are BAM’s concerns?

BAM leadership has a number of objections to the city’s lease proposal. 

Fales said a lease that could be possibly terminated with 60 days notice would make it difficult for BAM to raise donations because potential supporters would think the museum was not stable. She said it would also put the museum’s national accreditation at risk and potentially endanger BAM’s multi-million dollar art collection because of the difficultly of finding climate-controlled and secure storage spaces suitable for art. 

Roughly five years ago, Fales said BAM hired Erstad Architects to help them draw up a number of concepts to expand and renovate the building for the fourth time since it was built during the Great Depression. She said while the conditions for a capital campaign for the project “have remained elusive in recent years,” the museum has been working toward expansion. 

One of the possible renderings for a revamped Boise Art Museum shown to Boise City Council. Via Erstad Architects

City Council Member Patrick Bageant told Fales the city is not looking to impact the museum’s future, but the lack of lease agreement creates legal liability for taxpayers and BAM. 

“Nobody wants to hurt BAM,” he said. “Nobody wants it to go away. Nobody is trying to put you in a tough corner and jam you up. What I heard in your presentation is there are some long-term planning you’d like to collaborate with us on and what you’re hearing from the city is you need a lease agreement that protects both of us. Those things aren’t incompatible.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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