CMATO loses exclusive rights to arts plaza

In a major blow to supporters hoping to place a privately funded art museum on the grounds of Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, the city decided last week not to renew a development agreement with California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks.

A 2014 agreement gave the museum exclusive rights to a 2.8- acre property to the west of City Hall and in front of the CAP parking structure. It will expire Oct. 13.

Although they did not rule out the possibility that CMATO could eventually end up near the arts plaza, T.O. City Council members said at their Sept. 26 meeting that they wanted the freedom to explore other uses for the publicly owned site, known as the Westside properties. A city-paid consultant is studying the downtown area and is expected to report back to the council in early 2018 with land-use recommendations.

“Tonight, it’s really land-use flexibility council’s looking at,” Councilmember Andy Fox said. “I think it would be extremely prudent, in addition to the other things we’re looking at on the boulevard, also to include a museum component.

“We’re (in talks with) the consultant to see if there’s a financial viability and also to see if that meets what we’re trying to achieve on the boulevard.”

Councilmember Al Adam, who sits with Fox on an ad hoc committee focused on the “downtown core,” an area on T.O. Boulevard between Erbes and Conejo School roads, described the nearly 3-acre parcel previously reserved for the museum as an “absolutely key piece of property” in the council’s big plans for the area.

“Our vision is that our citizens will be able to get out and walk in our downtown all the way from P.F. Chang’s down to Erbes Road and have something to do as they go along,” Adam said. “And this piece of property is going to be an essential part of that vision.”

As for CMATO’s current offices and gallery, which are housed in a former Taco Bell at Dallas Drive and T.O. Boulevard, the council voted to authorize City Manager Andrew Powers to negotiate a month-to-month lease with the art museum, which has exhibits planned through December.

The deal will require that the city give the nonprofit organization 90 days’ notice before requiring them to vacate the building.

“It allows CMATO to continue fundraising and related operations as they have been doing,” said Mark Towne, the city’s community development director, “and it allows the city to evaluate all land-use options for the Westside properties going forward.”

Before last week’s meeting, Tony Principe, chair of CMATO’s board of directors, said he hopes the city’s consultant will look hard at the museum’s revised plans for the art museum, which reduce the original $30-million estimate to build the facility.

The first phase would be the construction of a 5,000-square-foot building to house exhibits and various programs put on by the museum. From there, phases 2 and 3 would add another 25,000 square feet of museum space, and phase 4 would be a 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot addition that could act as a conference center, hotel or apartments.

“We refined the plan a number of times to incorporate the city’s goal of having pedestrian walkways,” Principe said, referring to the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan.

“We also created an almost park-like outdoor amphitheater space between phases 1, 2 and 3 that’s just a great hangout,” he said.

Fox attempted to soften the blow at the Sept. 26 meeting by praising the community members behind CMATO and saying he still thought the museum was a good fit for Thousand Oaks.

“Wherever they may end up— and that decision has not been made yet—it’s a really exciting opportunity for the community to have our own art museum. Because those folks are passionate, and they do a really good job,” Fox said.