(This post is by Carl Marquardt, legal counsel to Mayor Mike McGinn. At issue is the dispute over whether the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) should renegotiate a funding deal and help the city's budget. MOHAI's op-ed from yesterday is here. — Eds)
MOHAI recently negotiated to receive $40 million for condemnation of a City-owned building. This is $25 million more than the City anticipated when it approved the deal, and MOHAI deserves credit for getting it. Now, as we face cuts in so many vital services, does it make sense to give MOHAI an additional $7 million in City funds?
We think these proceeds should be dedicated to helping the City pay for other pressing priorities that are currently at risk. Now is not the time for one community non-profit to soak up all available funding, while so many others go without.
As background: The City has long supported MOHAI by providing the familiar Montlake facility to MOHAI rent-free, while also subsidizing MOHAI’s annual operating budget. Because the State’s plans for 520 include destruction of the Montlake building, the City and MOHAI have been working on plans to move MOHAI to the Armory at Lake Union. This looks like a good project for the City and MOHAI, and we support it—within responsible limits.
More after the jump.
Renovation of the Armory is expected to cost $30 million, and MOHAI has budgeted another $15 million for new exhibits. Last fall, the City Council authorized MOHAI to negotiate with the State to condemn the Montlake building, and direct the proceeds—budgeted at $15 million—to Armory renovation. The State has now agreed to pay $40 million for the Montlake building. Together with $15 million realized from sale of its Convention Center property (also City-subsidized), MOHAI has now lined up $55 million for what was to be a $45 million project. Good for MOHAI. So, what’s the problem?
MOHAI is asking the City to dedicate additional funds—as much as $7 million—from future condemnation of City land at Montlake. The Mayor’s office was initially supportive of this proposal, but that was before the $40 million settlement for the building was revealed.
MOHAI has no legal claim to proceeds from City-owned land. Of course MOHAI can find uses for the money—its revised budget includes $20 million for a new staff office building, and $20 million more for “soft costs.” But it is not clear that City funding for these purposes is justified, given many other priorities.
It’s easy enough to say that institutions such as MOHAI are worthy of City support. The analysis becomes much harder when we face the reality of a constrained budget, and the recognition that funds dedicated to one are denied to another. Every additional dollar that is allocated to MOHAI is money that cannot be spent for filling potholes, housing the homeless, maintaining community centers, or other worthy causes. At this point, MOHAI has enough money lined up to proceed with its project. Condemnation of City land at Montlake won’t go forward until 2011, at the very earliest, and so there is plenty of time for MOHAI to make a case for additional funding, if it can. Meantime, as we watch so many public-funded institutions struggle to survive, it’s hard to justify spending $7 million to make a great deal even better for MOHAI.