Fresno Met Museum Deal Approved

July 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Fresno City Council voted this week to bring the struggling Met Museum a step closer to solvency. But everyone involved agrees the deal to make good on the Museum's 15-million dollar bank loan is not without a lot of risk.            |   DOWNLOAD MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING   |

The action took place in a special meeting of the Fresno City Council. The council first met in closed session with legal staff to go over the requests for changes from the Frenso Metropolitan Museum Board of Directors and the Museum's Director. It would ultimately vote to approve or reject the agreement between the City and the Met in open session. The document, a Memo of Understanding, surrenders all of the Met's assets to the city of Fresno. In exchange, the City and its taxpayers will make good on a 15 million dollar bank loan the Met can't pay. Fresno is legally obligated to do so, as it guaranteed the 15 million dollar bank loan 2 years ago.

Only 5 of 7 council members were there to make the decision. Council member Lee Brand echoed the general consensus of the council members present, "As a public official I will reluctantly support this, we have no choice." Brand acknowledged the risk while seeing no other choice. Bankruptcy of the Met, he added, would not lead to enough money to pay off the loan.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin agreed saying, "There's really no good option for the city, for the taxpayers but for us to create this opportunity for the Met to succeed and for the city to get paid back. There's still a lot of work to be done."

The final vote was unanimous as Council President Cynthia Sterling took the roll call, "All those in favor say aye. Anyone opposed - nay. The ayes have it."

The Fresno met now has a new landlord and the city of Fresno expects the non-profit to raise millions of dollars, focus its mission and turn a financial failure into a fiscal success. A daunting task that the Frenso Met's Executive Director, Dana Thorpe, accepts with no reservations, "Yes, we have a goal of a huge amount of money to rise, but when you have that level of support behind you, you enter into that challenge with a lot of optimism, hope and clarity of vision."

The lease for the Met Museum building itself will be at reduced rate for the first three years of the deal which could run for ten years under renewal options in the M.O.U. AT a certain point in the lease the Met will have to begin paying back the accumulated reduction in fees. In addition, all of the Met's other properties can be developed or sold by the city of Fresno under the agreement approved on July 14, 2009.

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