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Could Carnegie house Alameda Museum?

Submitted by on 1, June 16, 2009 – 5:50 amNo Comment

9City Councilman Frank Matarrese is set to ask his council colleagues at Tuesday night’s meeting to explore the possibility of moving the Alameda Museum into the old Carnegie Library, which was closed for public use in 1998.

There’s just one catch: The museum would have to come up with the money to pay the $4 million to $5 million estimated cost of renovating the building and, potentially, ongoing costs which could far exceed the current cost of their rent.

“Andrew Carnegie gave that building to the city for civic use. That building’s for public use, for education and culture,” Matarrese said.

And one councilmember I caught up with, Lena Tam, said she’s willing to explore the possibility.

“In these austere economic times, we really need to get back to basics between the ‘nice to have’ vs. the ‘need to have,'” Tam wrote us. “It would be good if there are opportunities to generate revenues from the lease of the Carnegie building in the short term.”

City leaders had previously studied different uses for the 106-year-old building, including as a home for the museum. But the council opted to allow the city’s Planning and Building Department to move there instead. (Matarrese said he voted against that move.)

But with the department cut in half by layoffs in the face of declining revenues, Matarrese is questioning whether they can come up with the money to rehab the building for their use. The money was supposed to come from building permit fees, which are way, way down. The department could also be consolidated into another city department as part of the city’s ongoing restructuring efforts.

Matarrese wants the council to consider allowing the museum to use the building in place of the money the city the museum to help cover its rent on its current home, at 2324 Alameda Avenue. The museum would also foot the bill for repairs and would also be responsible for “defined operating costs.”

A November 2007 restoration and preservation study estimated repair costs at $4.4 million if the museum were to move into the building and ongoing maintenance and operating costs of $150,000 to $200,000 a year.

Diane Coler-Dark, president of the museum’s board, said they’d be willing to consider moving to the Carnegie, which she said is a “beautiful building” – if the price is right. As it is, the museum struggles to come up with its share of the $5,035 monthly rent on its current home (Coler-Dark said the city chips in $3,225 a month).

“We need to figure out what the limitations are, and what the expectations are,” Coler-Dark said.

Matarrese, by the way, will be talking about this and more at his upcoming town hall meeting, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, June 22 at Crosstown Coffeehouse, 1303 High Street. For more on that, you can call him at 205-3855 or e-mail at frank_matarrese@yahoo.com.

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