The city council approved a motion on Thursday, Oct. 21, to have City Attorney Mike Morris “move forward” with Nueces County officials on the idea of terminating the city’s lease of the countyowned building. The concept calls for the county to begin leasing the 430 N. Alister St. building to the Art Center for the Islands.
The vote was 6-0, with Councilman John Price absent.
The Art Center for the Islands wants to mostly demolish the building in a few “ and build a new headquarters on the site, according to Dan Winship, the art center’s fundraising chairman.
The art center wants to begin leasing “ the property as soon as possible, because it will put the non-profit organization in a better position to raise donor funds for an eventual construction effort, Winship told the council.
The city will provide the computer center with a new home by the time the art center begins demolition, McMullin said.
The plan is to enlarge the William R. “Bill” Ellis Memorial Library and put the computer center there, the mayor said. As envisioned, that would happen by 2014, possibly through a bond issue that also would improve other city facilities, he said.
The non-profit Port Aransas Computer Club operates the computer center, which for years has provided free public access to computers and the Internet.
Several computer club board members appeared before the council, including Lyndon Holcomb, president of the club.
Holcomb said the club preferred that the city keep its lease with the county, rather than allow the art center to take over the lease. In an interview prior to the meeting, he said the club is more comfortable with the city as a landlord, because the city has a solid track record of keeping a good relationship with the club.
Winship said the art center doesn’t intend to evict the computer center. More than one council member said the city would make sure the computer center continues to have a home.
The computer club pays only for its Internet connection. The city doesn’t charge rent or for utilities or garbage pickup. Holcomb asked if that kind of arrangement would continue with a new lease involving the art center, and City Manager Robert Bradshaw said it would.
If the art center takes over the lease, it could happen within the next few months. But McMullin said the city won’t continue moving forward with the process of terminating the lease unless there is “100 percent assurance” from the county and art center that the computer club will be allowed to remain in the building for the next few years.
Morris said the city must have “contractual certainty” that the computer center will be protected.
“No one’s going to let you get kicked out,” Councilman Keith Donley told Holcomb. “No one is going to let the rent go up.”
Winship asked that the city approve a motion to request termination of the lease. If that doesn’t happen, he said, “it won’t move forward with the county.”
But McMullin said the motion would state only that the city attorney would engage in discussions with the county on the subject of possibly terminating the lease later. He said the council wants to take it one step at a time.
The city’s lease with the county expires in September 2015. Nueces County commissioners in May last year agreed to a plan laid out by the art center to eventually lease the land to the art center.
While the art center would allow the computer center to continue operating in the building, the art center would have to because “it has to be recognized as an art museum” in order to abide by terms of an anticipated agreement with the county, according to the terms of a new lease, Winship said.
“Is that really fair?” Holcomb said.
McMullin said it seemed fair to him.
“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” the mayor said, adding that the artwork might be appealing to computer center customers.
The art center also would need to put a sign up on the grounds stating that it’s the future site of a new art center, Winship said.
Councilman Steve Lanoux asked how much people use the computer center.
Holcomb said the center had 14,000 customers last year. He said the center averages about 36 visitors a day in the summer and about 100 each day in the winter, when many Winter Texans are in town.
Lanoux said it will be important to keep up a good visitor count for the next few years, so the city will have a good idea of how big to make the computer center’s new home.