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Bergamot Arts Tenants Worry 'Rent Relief' Not Enough

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Cssuso

April 9, 2021 -- Galleries at the City owned Bergamot Station Arts Center say the "Rent Relief Program" the Council will consider Tuesday doesn't go nearly far enough in helping them recover from the coronavirus shutdown.

The plan proposed by staff sets aside $1.14 million of the $29.3 million in federal funding to provide rent relief and additional support for tenants participating in the City’s Rent Deferment Program.

Bergamot -- which has dwindled from 28 to 14 businesses subletting from the City's leaseholder, the Worthe Team -- would get a $44,357 rent break, but no funding.

"It's going to make a very tiny difference," said Marisa Caichiolo, who runs the non-profit Building Bridges Arts Exchange.

The exchange, which has remained mostly closed for a year, relies on on local schools that have been shut down and foreign arts residencies that have been canceled.

"It's going to be tough to even pay 100 percent of the rent and paying the money back" in differed rent, said Caichiolo, who has been paying 50 percent of the rent. "It would really be deadly for us."

Rose Shoshana, who own ROSEGALLERY at Begamot, doesn't qualify for any of the $26,000 worth in rent abatement because the business is a for-profit.

And the 12-month rent freeze program for Bergamot worth a total of $18,357 will do little to help.

"They all say they want a thriving arts community, but when it comes to actually supporting us" the help is not there, Shoshana said.

"It's a big disappointment after letting the members know how dire the situation is here," she said.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich counters that the City -- which has been forced to make drastic budget cuts -- can't afford to provide direct financial assistance.

"With our financial situation, we're not going to be giving people money," Himmelrich said. "What we can do is not make them pay.

"What we're trying to do is keep businesses afloat, but we cannot afford to support the business operations through funding."

Himmelrich notes that many for profit galleries are by appointment only and rely on wealthy collectors who continued to invest in art during the shutdown.

"I am less concerned about the art galleries than the performing arts venues," Himmelrich said, noting that City Garage Theatre is at Bergamot. "They are two separate issues."

Former Arts Commissioner Mike Meyers believes both the galleries and performing arts venues, like the Ruskin Theater he runs, are in dire straits.

"We're dead. The Ruskin can't even reopen," Myers said. "We are all looking for some ray of hope, and this is not it."

Meyers views the rent abatements as the City "paying itself for the rent increase it didn't enact."

He also notes the City plans to use $4.72 million of the $29.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)funds to to hire three full-time planning employees for the next four years.

"I don't know how the people in plan check plan to help the business community," Myers said. "I guess they think we'll do a lot of remodeling."

Meyers said it's also ironic that artists are getting virtually no help from a City whose Council will make a proclamation Tuesday declaring April "Arts Month."

Bergamot, he notes, is one of the last arts bastions in a city that once boasted a thriving arts, theater and music scene decimated by soaring real estate prices.

The City's arts tenants fear the coronavirus shutdown may do in what's left.

"We're trying our best to stay," said Caichiolo, whose arts exchange moved from Los Angeles to Bergamot a decade ago. "But we don't know if we're going to survive."

"What is really important to us is this is it," Shoshana said of Bergamot. "There's no other place in Santa Monica."

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