Center for Arts' capital campaign sets lofty goal -- $600,000

Homeless? Not if group can raise $260,000 

UPDATED, July 28: The Arlington Center for the Arts will not be homeless next July -- if it can raise $260,000 and at least half that by the end of next January.

That is the nub of the deal in a memo unanimously approved Monday, July 25, by the Redevelopment Board that would move the 27-year-old hub of town arts to the third and fourth floors of the Senior Center.

There's much more. In an email to supporters Wednesday, July 27, Executive Director Linda Shoemaker wrote: "In the coming days, ACA will launch a $600,000 capital campaign to fund the buildout and create the new ACA. Plans include arts classrooms, gallery and event spaces, a combination of individual and shared artist studios and creative work spaces."

She added: "Every journey begins with a single step, and we're asking for your help to get started. Over the last year, so many of you have shared your ACA stories of lives changed and enriched by this wonderful place. Don't let the Arlington community lose its 'Heart of the Arts.'"

Her statement also said: "ACA will be in the heart of Arlington Center, right in the hub of Arlington's developing cultural district. We are excited to create a 'new ACA' that will retain much of what people have loved about ACA over the past 27 years, and at the same time develop new facilities and programs that will offer even more community arts programs and resources for our kids, our artists and our community ....

"Please make a donation today to get us started towards our new home." You can donate here >>

At the July 25 meeting, board member Andrew West said, "I hope [this plan] is the right place at the right time."

The center must move from the former Gibbs School on Foster Street by next June 30, because expanding enrollment has led the public schools to reclaim the space for sixth graders and give relief to the burgeoning Ottoson Middle School population.

The agreement reached to lay the foundation for the center's new home is not a lease but a memo of understanding. Redevelopment Board members described it as a "bridge" and an "interim step."

Schools eye space for fall

In a related matter, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie is in talks with Planning Director Jennifer Raitt about using third- and fourth-floor space in the coming school year. Bodie would say only that she is looking a program for which there is insufficient room at the high school.

The space is now empty because state agencies vacated it June 30, and planning officials would like to see it occupied and bringing in rent through June. If that can occur, Redevelopment Board member Michael Cayer called it a "win-win" for all.

Some of the available space in the Senior Center, also known as the Central School, is occupied by the Mystic River Watershed Association, a longtime tenant, which needed for room and responded to the request for proposals last spring, as did the center and the town's retirement department. The latter has been installed on the ground floor where the Housing Corporation of Arlington once was, now that the nonprofit has moved to East Arlington.

On June 20, the board voted to have Chairman Andrew Bunnell sign an amendment to the watershed lease agreement to include the office suite near its current leased space. That agreement takes effect Aug. 1.

For redevelopment and the center to sign a lease next summer, the latter must raise sufficient funds to refurbish third- and fourth-floor space. To go to donors, the center needed the memo to show a plan is in place.

Raitt said the heart of the memo is Section II, which lays out the schedule for target goals. See the full memo here >> (large .pdf file) 

The $260,000 needed was described as base renovation costs.

Worst case?

Asked what the worst case would be for the center in its effort to secure a lease, Raitt said that if by next Jan. 31 not enough money is raised, then the board would have to restart its request-for-proposals process.

To reach its $130,000 goal in January, the agreement says the center may use as much as $75,000 from reserves.

"I'm excited about this," Redevelopment Board member Kin Lau said.

An architect, Lau asked how the fourth floor might be revamped for programming, noting that expected costs were "conservative."

Among those representing the center, Patrick Duffy, also an architect, said plans call for not making that many changes

Asked how many people would be occupying the space in the evening, Shoemaker said, "We might get 40."

If the center's new home becomes a reality, it will be smaller than their longtime digs at Gibbs, which has 12,600 squre feet. The new space is about 8,000 square feet.

From the Redevelopment Board's perspective, "We're going to take a big hit on this financially," Cayer said.

He called the deals the town had with the state agencies that have left good ones.

'Back to roots'

Even so, he added, the board has the support of Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, he said, and, with the center for the arts on board, "we're getting back to the roots"; that is, the purpose of the building as a place for a key town resource.

Asked what would happen if the arts-center plan does not get Town Meeting approval, Raitt suggested using urban-renewal funds. She added that, at the same time, planning will be seeking an appropriation to revamp the entire Senior Center.

West moved to authorize Bunnell to sign the memo of understanding. The vote was 4-0.

Besides those named, present for the center for the arts were Betty Stone, Adam Pachter and Lisa Pedulla, who will lead a fund-raising effort involving direct mail as well as major donor outreach, including to corporations.

July 26, 2016: ACMi award goes to Shoemaker

This report was published Tuesday, July 26, 2016, and updated July 28, to change headline.

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