Letter to Alameda on Carnegie Rehab Project

With great sadness I announced last week that the Carnegie Innovation Hall team will halt efforts to revitalize Alameda’s Carnegie Library, until this or a future city government can truly help make this project happen. This is not a decision my team has come to lightly. Rather, over the past six weeks, it has become painfully clear that we are missing the most critical element of the project: a city government that fully supports and values what we intend to bring to the community.

Background
Almost two years ago, I began this as a labor of love in my hometown of Alameda. The Carnegie Innovation Hall promised to be a community destination like no other — a vibrant, magical space that would bring young people and adults of all walks of life together to dream, learn and grow — through innovative, educational opportunities, entrepreneurial programming and the performing arts.

My role as founder of The Crucible (the nation’s largest nonprofit, industrial arts-education facility, located in West Oakland) and director of Stanford University’s ReDesigning Theater Project uniquely qualify me to take on this very challenging task. I have not entered into this work lightly; I know what it takes to transform dreams like this into reality and how to raise the funds to make it happen.

My motivation has always been to give back to the Alameda community I have been a part of for more than a decade. Breathing new life into the Carnegie Library that has sat vacant for last 20 or more years is something I have imagined for many years.

The volunteer Carnegie team and I hoped to raise $6.5 million to renovate the Carnegie Library, which is located in the heart of downtown Alameda. Our plan was to restore this 1902 historical building to its former grandeur and majesty, to house our nonprofit community programming, while making the space available for public and private events.

Our programming would adapt to meet the wants and needs of our community. We had hoped to create a venue for artists to produce new theatrical experiences, as well as provide an entrepreneurial and learning launchpad for all. We were especially looking forward to a partnership with Alameda High School to house a public-access television station.

Partnership
Since February 2018, we sought a collaborative, mutually beneficial partnership with the City of Alameda. The previous Mayor and City Manager told us we could start working on fundraising and lease proposals, but in August 2018 we were told to wait and apply through a request for qualifications (RFQ) process. We applied, and in January we were notified that we were selected over the only other applicant.

We began working with city staff on a letter of intent with lease terms based on city guidelines. Over several meetings, we negotiated terms of a ground lease, and then were told our lease would go to a City Council vote on June 2.

In the process, we filed for non-profit status and set up the critical elements up the organization. We logged countless volunteer hours, including efforts of volunteer advisors in architecture, restoration, construction, labor, land use, funding, education, organization building, community outreach, diversity, sustainability, volunteer organization and finance.

Delays and Contradiction
The city postponed the vote from June to July, then again to September. When we voiced concerns about the delays, staff proposed a licensing agreement to give us preliminary access to the building. The licensing agreement was based on negotiated lease terms to date, and included property insurance, which we began paying at that time. Before the September Council vote, the mayor pulled the lease vote into closed session for discussion.

While we knew the lease would not be not finalized until it was voted on by City Council, we were certainly not prepared for the Council to make new demands that were contrary the original RFQ guidelines. Nevertheless, we worked to accommodate these new requests — only to be met with more last-minute alterations. We have been forced to continually reevaluate how these changes affected our ability to move forward. The city’s added terms have open-ended conditions that increase the uncertainty of the project and add additional, critical negotiations down the road.

Effect
These late-stage terms have rendered the success of our project more challenging and uncertain, and diminished our ability to thrive long-term as a nonprofit. The delays caused us to miss a critical funding window with a foundation we’d hoped would provide seed funding. Most importantly, we fear the events of the past six months foreshadow an ineffective relationship with the City of Alameda.

Conclusion
We feel the current city government does not support or value what we have to offer Alameda. We are a nonprofit organization — dedicated to giving back to our community as an educational, entrepreneurial, entertainment and community resource — yet we are being treated as if we were private developers with bottomless pockets and profits on our minds.

We know what true partnership with a city government looks and feels like, and sadly, we are forced to accept that we simply do not have it at this time. After much deliberation, we have decided to put the Carnegie Innovation Hall project on hold. The building has waited 21 years to be reborn, but it must again wait until this or a future city government can truly work with us to help make this project a reality.

You can watch the City Council debate before the Nov. 5 vote in the city’s online video archive. Discussion of Carnegie Innovation Hall begins at 26:13 in the video.

 

Michael Sturtz leads the Carnegie Innovation Hall team.

Editor’s note: Parts of this letter were removed for space considerations. To read the entire letter, see www.carnegieinnvationhall.org/cihall-letter-alameda.