Sherman R. Frederick
Sausalito Marin Scope
Come hell or high water (which is not unknown to Sausalito government), the historic Bank of America building in downtown Sausalito will become an arts center very soon.
It took a few hours of lively discussion at the Jan. 11 Sausalito City Council to arrive at that conclusion. But after all the “discussion” was over, the Council decided to hammer out a lease agreement with a community arts group to turn the bank into what Mayor Jill Hoffman called “a concept called Sausalito Center for the Arts.”
No formal vote was taken at the Jan. 11 meeting. This discussion was for “transparency,” the mayor said. She and Councilmember Ian Sobiesky worked together to sift through six proposals for the bank building, which was purchased by the city in August 2020 for $2.2 million.
Of the six, Hoffman and Sobiesky thought the arts center idea was the top candidate because of the value to the whole community and the potential for the idea to begin generating money right away.
The Jan. 11 meeting, the mayor said, was to let “everyone to know where they stood.” She said the city will hammer out a deal and come back for more community input and for formal city approval.
Other ideas received included converting the bank into affordable housing, the creation of a retreat center, making the space into a retail market and restaurant sace.
Councilmember Malissa Blaustein and Vice Mayor Janelle Kellman were not sold on the process.
Blaustein and Kellman favored narrowing down the proposal to the top two or three and then moving forward.
There should be “an opportunity” to hear the top three ideas for the bank, Blaustein said. Kellerman said she’d “like to learn more” about the other ideas.
The move to negotiate with only the arts center backers did not sit well with a handful of citizens who took the time to call in to speak at the meeting.
The first speaker openly mocked the idea as elitist that pays lip service to inclusiveness.
“Reaching out to Marin City,” she said. “Is this a joke?”
Rooftop bars? What about the artists at (the homeless Tent City in) Marinship, she said.
“I’m so sorry for this city. It is unwilling to change” from its ways of “systematic racism,” she said.
Another speaker said he favored “more options” and “more consent” from the broader community.
This decision, he said, should not be left to the City Council because the City Council always “screws things up.” He called the arts center idea a “quick fix.”
But several other speakers liked the direction of the Council.
The arts center idea is the “best proposal,” one speaker said. Although he said if there’s going to be a rooftop bar there should also be a sidewalk cafe because a sidewalk cafe has the quintessential Sausalito vibe.
Two people from the arts center proposal pledge that if the bank were turned over to them it would become a place for the entire community.
Louis Briones, chair of the Sausalito Art Festival Foundation board, told the Council that “we see it as a multi-use facility … (and) We would actually start using it this spring.”
Monica Finnegan, a member of the arts group who sits on the city’s economic development committee, said “this building must embrace the entire community.”
“We see this center for the arts as a place we can aggregate information, we can aggregate resources and we can aggregate this community that already exists.”
In the presentation given by Briones, it was pointed out that “for decades Sausalito has garnered a reputation and identity as an ‘artist community.” But, it has become “increasingly expensive for artists to live in Sausalito.”
The arts group slideshow said that “it has become cost prohibitive to rent studio space” and the city now lacks a “coordinated vision” to “shape the cultural vision” of the city.
“Although Sausalito is still considered an ‘artist community,’ its reputation is based on its history and the reality of today.”
Turning the Bank of America into an art center could change that, the backers of the idea maintained.
Councilmember Susan Cleveland-Knowles said she was “fully in favor of moving forward.”
The other ideas that seemed viable to her require a “much longer term.”
After hearing from the public and other observations from council members, the issue proceeded without a vote.
Mayor Hoffman and Councilman Sobieski will work with the arts center people to come up with a firm proposal for the public to examine and for the Council to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
(You can reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.)