YMCA, not Downey Museum of Art, gets Furman Park building

DOWNEY - With competing offers from the Downey YMCA and the Downey Museum of Art to operate programming out of an empty building at Furman Park, the City Council on Tuesday night went with the YMCA, which plans to open an "arts, enrichment and leadership center" for children and seniors.

The decision puts the future of the DMOA in jeopardy - the museum has said that without a permanent gallery, it cannot obtain the necessary grants to operate and may be forced to disperse its collection of more than 400 paintings.

The DMOA had operated out of the Furman Park building since 1957. Museum officials say the approximate 5,000 sq. ft. structure was donated to the city of Downey for the specific purpose of operating the DMOA.

City officials, however, produced a bill of sale that shows the building was sold to Downey for $2,500.

"There is nothing in the bill of sale about how the building is to be used," said city attorney Yvette Abich Garcia.

Litigation involving its previous executive director, followed by an investigation by the Attorney General's office, forced the DMOA's closure in 2009.

Today the museum has a mostly-new board of directors and had hoped to reoccupy its former space to host workshops, art classes and maintain regular operating hours, said DMOA President George Redfox.

Council members were skeptical, however, noting that the museum has only about $5,000 cash on hand and no regular funding sources.

City administrators also claim the building requires structural and electrical upgrades that will cost "tens of thousands" of dollars to complete.

Despite Tuesday's vote, council members said they remained willing to help DMOA, and floated the possibility of subsidizing the museum's rent at a downtown location for two years.

Meanwhile, the city will now enter into negotiations with the YMCA to finalize a lease agreement. According to a preliminary deal, the YMCA agreed to pay for all interior repairs, while the city would be responsible for the HVAC system, roof, foundation, exterior walls, water systems, and common areas.

The proposed lease is for 10 years.

Tuesday's vote was 4-0. Councilman Alex Saab, whose wife is a part-time employee of the YMCA, abstained.

Councilmen Mario Guerra and Roger Brossmer both sit on the YMCA's board of directors. They have no financial interest in the YMCA, however, and were cleared to vote by the city attorney.