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Modesto group votes to spend arts center money; city council still must approve

Modesto is poised to make good on a 4-year-old pledge to pay for street and sidewalk improvements outside the Gallo Center for the Arts.

A volunteer group that advises the city on spending from the Modesto Redevelopment Agency today voted unanimously to release $850,000 to pay for that work.

Its decision is not a binding commitment, though. The City Council must affirm the vote to free the agency’s money. That could come as early as next week.

“It’s one of our final goals for the redevelopment of downtown,” said Mike Navarro, chairman of the Citizens Redevelopment Advisory Commission. “Certainly it’s going to be an asset to the (city’s redevelopment area).”

The commission’s decision appeared to relieve some of the arts center’s board of directors.

“We really need the money,” said Suzanne Casazza, who framed the contribution as a chance for the city to show its support for the arts center. “And it falls right into what you’ve been funding.”

The arts center is on course to open next month with $14 million in bond debt. Its plans called for it to open debt-free, leading to probable deficits of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year until it can pay down the bonds.

Its leaders said the center would spur more spending downtown, which in turn could replenish the Redevelopment Agency’s finances. The agency is expected to collect $5.7 million from special property taxes this year.

“We’re providing jobs to people and creating additional opportunities for downtown,” Gallo center Chairman Fred Silva said.

The arts center’s original designs called for matching $15 million contributions from the city and Stanislaus County, but the city pulled out of that arrangement in 1999, citing its weak finances.

Stanislaus County maintained its commitment, while the nonprofit Central Valley Center for the Arts agreed to make up the city’s share through fund-raising. When the arts center opens next month, the county will own the building while the nonprofit will operate it.

In 2003, the City Council voted to spend about $1 million on improvements outside the arts center. It steered $602,000 of that pledge to the Redevelopment Agency.

If approved by the City Council, the advisory commission’s decision would let the agency spend that $602,000 and an additional $248,000 in cost escalations associated with the work Modesto agreed to undertake.

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