Council talks options for downtown arts center

The Gilroy Interim Center for the Arts is located at 7341 Monterey St.

GILROY—Options to renovate or relocate the Interim Center from the Arts from its current home in downtown Gilroy would cost between $1.5 million and $24 million, according to discussions at Monday’s special council study session regarding the building’s future.
The nonprofit Gilroy Arts Alliance has been leasing its facility at 7341 Monterey St. from the city since 2010, but has desired a new center since the late 1990s. The organization’s leaders said Monday they’d prefer to stay downtown, and many on the council agreed.
Operations Manager at the Interim Center for the Arts Kevin Heath told the Dispatch he believed the study session was the start of “an incredibly positive dialogue.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Perry Woodward chaired the study session for Mayor Don Gage, who was undergoing a scheduled surgery.
“The support for the arts was there,” Heath said Wednesday. “The council was open and positive about everything that was put in front of them. I came out of it feeling like at least our voices are being heard.”
Executive director Donna Pray of the Gilroy Foundation said the Gilroy Arts Alliance and the more than 100 volunteers who support it have transformed an “ugly corner” at the interim site into “the most beautiful anchor to our downtown.”
“I’d hate to see that go away,” she said, responding to the suggestion that the center should relocate elsewhere.
Gilroy Public Works Director Rick Smelser presented four options for consideration: constructing a new building to replace the existing arts center on Monterey Street, as first studied in 1998; upgrading the existing center to expand occupancy; relocating to the Wheeler Community Center; or exploring the concept of building a new civic center and parking lot with an attached arts center adjacent to the Gilroy Library.
While a decision was not reached Monday, the council agreed to host community workshops within the year to hammer out a plan and discuss how the different projects would be funded. As of press time Wednesday, a date had not been set for the next discussion in council chambers.
“We’ve come a long way with the city,” Heath said. “We hope what we’ve built here will stay here and we can work with this city council and city staff.”
It would cost $1.5 million to build upon the existing facility and expand its occupancy beyond current limits of 49 people to accommodate between 200 and 400 occupants, according to Smelser.
A 2008 business plan prepared by consultants on behalf of the city estimated new construction of a standalone arts center could range between $19 and $24 million. Smelser said prior to recommending a solution, an updated accounting is needed to show how much each option would cost in today’s dollars.
The “ultimate goal,” Councilwoman Cat Tucker said, is to get a new building constructed at the existing downtown location. But how the city gets there, she said, and whether it involves a bond measure, grassroots fundraising or a city-led task force to discuss future plans, depends entirely on the opinions of residents and stakeholders.
“Tonight, I’m not going to choose. I don’t feel comfortable making a decision without talking to you guys,” she said, referring to members of the arts community in the audience Monday.
Councilman Roland Velasco said the council would not rush to judgment on this issue, remarking that the community deserves an arts center and it should be placed with care.
The option with the least support in council chambers, however, was the one to relocate all arts programming from the existing Monterey Street facility to the Wheeler Community Center, which Councilman Perry Woodward called “already oversubscribed” and home to some important youth programs.
He said he supports keeping the arts center downtown, “unless there’s a really compelling reason not to.”
While members of the arts community were enthusiastic following the session, they expressed disappointment that city staff did not ask them for input prior to staff’s presentation.
“You’ve done this study and proposed these options without giving us an opportunity for input,” Gilroy Arts Alliance President Carol Harris told the council.
“I think they (city staff) could have included us,” Heath said Wednesday. “It’s not like they don’t have my phone number or know where we are. I have to say, that was the only disappointing thing.”
Heath added, “We know this is the first step of a million but it was a really good place to start.”