City takes chisel to Arts Alliance’s building plans

A view of the Gilroy Interim Center for the Arts. 

On the heels of a $135,000 facelift making the Interim Center for the Arts more comfortable for hosting shindigs, the Gilroy Arts Alliance has a possible problem on its palette that could whitewash most special events beginning in 2012.
While GAA Director Kevin Heath notes everything is subject to a forthcoming report from a city-hired structural engineer, he’s bracing for a potentially large, expensive construction project to bring the city-owned building up to seismic and safety codes. The building at at 7341 Monterey St. is slated for eventual demolition in the next 10 years, pending the construction of a $25 million, permanent Center for the Arts in the same location.
Bringing the building up to code entails the installation of a fire alarm system, “which isn’t terrible,” said Heath of the to-do item, which could cost around $1,000.
It’s the other part – beefing up the roof to ensure that it is seismically safe – that has him concerned. Heath has no idea what kind of upgrades might be required, or how much it will cost, until the engineer’s analysis comes back sometime this month. His ballpark guess was anywhere between $30,000 to $70,000.
“It’s not like we can write a check for something like that,” he explained. “The funding for that would definitely have to involve outreach.”
When it comes to who would foot the bill, Kristi Abrams, City of Gilroy community development director, confirmed the GAA would be responsible.
Abrams explained the lease agreement specifies funding for improvements to the building and property are the responsibility of the tenant.
After a meeting with Mayor Al Pinhiero Thursday, however, GAA Board Member Sylvia Myrvold said financing is still up in the air.
“Worst case scenario we would have to foot the whole bill, which would just not be possible,” she said. “If that happens we would be in dire need of community support.”
Right now, Abrams explained, the Interim Center is rated as a retail space, meaning the GAA must (1) apply for an event permit any time it wants to host an event with 50 or more people, and (2) is subject to a per-year cap on the number of times it can apply for a permit.
In 2011, the city gave the Arts Center a cap of 30 occasions to apply for a permit. That number could plummet to 12 in the new year, however.
“Historically, with the exception of the Arts Center, special event requests have fell below 12 per year, thus a numerical limit was not established,” Abrams explained in an email. “The city is currently reviewing their special event policy and is considering limiting the number of special events per location to 12 a year.”
Hence, the GAA is working toward becoming rated for assembly, rather than retail. This re-classification would grant the Interim Center the green light to host unlimited gatherings, and eliminate the tedious processing of paperwork at the city.
“I’m literally knocking on their door every month,” said Heath, with a hint of playful exasperation in his voice as he listed the six or seven signatures, meetings and forms required for event approval.
At the rate things have been going for the Center’s burgeoning social scene, Abrams pointed out the GAA “would need far more than 30 events.” She also reiterated “the city has committed to work with the Arts Alliance through this process.”
Until the building is up to seismic code, however, Abrams – who, after conferring with all the technical experts on city staff has the final say in the process – confirmed, “until he’s rated for assembly, he is limited to those 12 events.”
Which, depending on the length of time it takes to fundraise and complete construction, “means the Center will potentially have to cut many of our revenue generating and well-attended events,” wrote Heath in the GAA’s electronic newsletter sent out Tuesday.
This may include the Arts Roundtable Forum, productions put on by the Limelight Actor’s Theater, the Divos and Divas Fundraiser, the Garlic Festival volunteer thank-you party, live performances by the Gilroy High School Chamber Choir and numerous local awards ceremonies, to name a few examples.
The Center would become mostly a gallery, wrote Heath.
And that’s a problem, because “events (requiring assembly) help fund everything we do,” Heath wrote.
As it is, the center will use up the last of its 30 event permits by this weekend with the final showing of the Limelight Actor’s Theater Christmas production, “Sorry! Wrong Chimney!”
No large gatherings are slated for January and February, but with a new Limelight show scheduled to open soon after – and each performance counting as an event – nine out 12 permits are spoken for in 2012. By March, this means the center would be left with three permits for the rest of 2012 until it’s rated for assembly. There is no charge for filling out a permit.
This has Heath hoping the city will grant the center a temporary variance until construction is finished.
When asked if this was a possibility, Abrams responded, “we have to wait for the structural engineer’s report to come back. That will answer a lot of questions.”
Abrams said she agrees the Interim Center should be rated for assembly once the fire alarm system and roof are taken care of.
This isn’t the first time the Center has run into a roadblock with one of its events.
In November, Limelight producers had to scramble hours before the opening performance of their Christmas play, after Abrams and Gilroy Deputy Fire Marshal Chris Pentony dropped by to examine the building. Due to a snafu with permit paperwork, which prolonged city inspection, the GAA didn’t find out until last minute that its Christmas tree and wooden stage area weren’t up to city fire safety codes.
Growing pains such as this prompt a winded reaction from downtown developer Gary Walton, who has experienced his own frustrations in dealing with city staff.
Walton said the city “should be doing everything it can to work with the Arts Alliance group. (City) staff is taking a hard-line position for people just trying to create a better place. Whatever the code is, they have the ability to override it.”
Walton said he’s surprised Heath doesn’t uproot Limelight – which was founded by Heath and established a permanent residency at the Center in 2011 – and move it to Morgan Hill.
Right now, everything hinges on the engineer’s analysis to be completed sometime this month, which will give Abrams and Heath a clear understanding of what the building needs. If construction wraps up quickly, the Interim Center can be re-rated for assembly and continue on its merry way. If seismic retrofitting for the roof takes up a significant chunk of 2012, however, this could put a damper on the GAA’s event-packed agenda.
“If we’re going to go through a six-month period and not be able to do anything, that would be a challenge,” Heath said.
There’s also that pesky detail about raising money to fund the construction project. Heath lightheartedly joked, “at that point I’ll go work at pizza parlor and raise the money myself or something.”
At this, Donna Pray, executive director of the local philanthropic nonprofit Gilroy Foundation, recalled Councilman Dion Bracco mentioned during the Second Annual Arts Roundtable Forum Oct. 26 that “the city has money for certain art-related projects. So maybe it’s time to dip into that,” she suggested. “It sounds like the perfect project to me.”
The recent renovations, which included a paved parking lot, an added storage room, an American Disabilities Act compliant bathroom, brand-new lighting fixtures and a convenient coffee bar with crisp red cabinetry, a dishwasher, sink and plenty of counter space for hosting large-scale receptions, was made possible by a $135,000 donation from garlic moguls Don and Karen Christopher.
In GAA’s Tuesday newsletter, Heath asked locals to email City Council, the Mayor, city administration and the Gilroy Dispatch to demonstrate their “love” for the center, and express how important it is go keep things chugging ahead at full speed.
“I’m just asking for people to tell the city how much they love the center,” he underlined. “Goodwill is gonna go a lot farther than somebody standing up at the city council meeting and yelling and screaming.”

Interim Center for the Arts to host Artisan’s Gift Shop
– The Gilroy Arts Alliance will host an Artisan’s Gift Shop, featuring locally hand-crafted goods such as art, jewelry and honey from 16 different artisans through Dec. 23rd.
– The gift shop will be open to the public from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.





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