110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Jen Horton
posted Jan 11, 2013 - 7:20:43am
The DeLand City Commission narrowly agreed to give a break to a nonprofit tenant that’s behind on its rent, while acknowledging that the city might not treat a private company as kindly.
The Florida Museum for Women Artists, which rents most of the Fish Building in Downtown DeLand from the city, owed $17,022.48 in back rent and $8,583.72 for past-due utilities.
With a 3-2 vote, commissioners gave the museum until September 2013 to catch up. Commissioners Phil Martin and Charles Paiva voted no.
Paiva noted he had supported the museum in 2011, when the museum asked to defer $8,500 in rent so it could spend money, instead, on getting the ground floor of the Fish Building ready for a partner tenant.
This time, Paiva said, another break wouldn’t be fair. The city has many tenants and water customers, he said, who are subject to penalties such as eviction and utility disconnection when they get behind.
“I will be voting no. I voted yes on the first deferment of $8,500,” Paiva said. “If we looked at
Although he voted to approve the repayment plan that requires the museum to make three payments on the past-due amount, in April, July and September, Mayor Bob Apgar acknowledged the decision might not be popular.
“We may be more strident with other tenants who owe us money,” Apgar said.
Apgar also noted the unpaid rent has a negative effect on the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) budget, a special fund for Downtown DeLand improvements. Any shortages in the CRA would have to be taken from the city’s general-fund budget, and that affects all the city’s taxpayers, the mayor said.
“There are others in this community that might see our actions differently,” Apgar said. “And, at least we see that and we acknowledge the political ramifications.”
Voting yes with Apgar to give the museum a break were Commissioners Leigh Matusick and Vonzelle Johnson.
Even Martin and Paiva said they support what the Florida Museum for Women Artists is trying to do.
“We applaud the risk-taking your group has taken on,” Martin said.
Museum President Margaret Hodge told commissioners the museum fully intends to pay its debt.
“We’re not asking for any waivers; we’re just asking for time to make it right,” Hodge said. “We’re going to owe that whether we’re here or not.”
Originally, in 2010, the museum was given a five-year lease for the top half of the Fish Building at 100 N. Woodland Blvd. It paid no rent for the first year.
In 2011, the city began charging $2,400 per year for rent; that amount was to increase by $1,200 each year during the third, fourth and fifth years of the five-year lease.
In 2011, two private retailers vacated the bottom floor, and the city put out a request for proposals from new prospective tenants. The museum and a longtime DeLand business, Merlin’s Vision, were the only bidders.
The museum offered to pay $30,000 a year for the entire ground floor. In turn, the museum would sublease the spaces, and act as a business incubator for arts-related businesses.
Merlin’s Vision offered $18,000 a year for half of the space.
At that time, Paiva favored splitting the bottom floor, because Merlin’s Vision was an established business and the city would receive some money for its property right away. The museum, he said at the time, could establish its business incubator in the other half.
Ultimately, however, the CRA board and the City Commission voted to lease the entire space to the museum.
Subleasing the ground floor proved a challenge for the museum, but things are looking up, Hodge told the DeLand City Commission Jan. 7.
A retail store called Funky Trunk Treasures has leased half of the ground floor, and that store, plus a second tenant, pay 90 percent of the museum’s cost for the ground floor, Assistant to the City Manager Michael Grebosz told commissioners.
Grebosz also commented on how the museum got so far behind in its utility payments.
Museum President Hodge said the museum didn’t get a utility bill for seven months, and then got one for a big sum of money. Grebosz said the billing error that caused the payment lapse has been corrected.
City Manager Michael Pleus told commissioners the city has no intention of letting the museum’s debt grow larger. If the scheduled payments aren’t made, he said, the staff will begin an eviction.
Mayor Apgar also warned that the City Commission might not be so nice the next time.
“Just want it to be clear, I support the museum,” Apgar said. “If a payment is missed, that might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
The museum paid the city $2,808 on the day of the Jan. 7 City Commission meeting, bringing the total amount owed down to $22,798.20.
In other action Jan. 7, the City Commission approved an application for a $150,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant. The city hopes to partner with Stetson University and the Museum of Florida Art in DeLand to plan a “cultural corridor” for the city.
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