City crafting deal to give Meyers House to nonprofit

City crafting deal to give Meyers House to nonprofit

Michele Ellson

Click the photo above to see our Meyers House slideshow.

City staffers are hammering out a deal to transfer ownership of the Meyers House to the nonprofit Alameda Museum, which now manages the historic home, The Alamedan has learned.

A deal to transfer ownership of the home and gardens to the museum could go to the City Council for its approval early next year, Alameda Recreation and Park Department director Amy Wooldridge said Monday.

“They’ve shown they can do the fundraising needed. And I think they’ll be good stewards of the house,” Wooldridge said of the Alameda Museum.

Under the proposed transfer, the nonprofit would assume full responsibility for the capital improvements and maintenance Meyers House needs and would continue to operate the city monument as a local house museum. Additional deal points have yet to be hammered out, though City Manager John Russo said the city doesn’t intend to ask the historical society to compensate the city for the property. Wooldridge said an appraisal on the house is coming.

“This is about having the people who really care and really understand a community asset be able to control it and run it and fundraise for it, and do everything that needs to be done,” Russo said.

Wooldridge said the sisters who bequeathed the home to the city had originally wished to give it to the museum but that the nonprofit’s leaders didn’t think at the time that they had the bandwidth to take it on. That’s changed, Wooldridge said.

The head of the historical society’s board, Robbie Dileo, did not return a call seeking comment Monday. But the museum’s leaders have embarked on a fundraising campaign aimed at raising $20,000 to fix the landmark, its website shows.

“We have paid for several large maintenance items at (Meyers House) over the years. The main museum and (Meyers House) are an excellent package for providing even better events,” Dileo wrote in the museum’s spring 2012 newsletter.

Wooldridge said in a report to the city’s Historical Advisory Board the society has drafted “a solid financial plan” for managing and fixing the house that includes opening up the landmark for daytime weddings and other events and other fundraising efforts. Right now, the Meyers House is only open to the public for a half day each month.

Jeanette B. Meyers gave the home, which is at 2021 Alameda Avenue, to the city in 1996. The city gets between $17,000 and $20,000 a year from Meyers estate assets managed by the East Bay Community Foundation to maintain the house, and spends an additional $3,000 to $4,000 a year above that, Wooldridge said; tax records show that the museum spent $3,777 to operate the Meyers House in 2011 and that the foundation, which Wooldridge said supports the transfer, gave the city $19,413 to maintain the house and its gardens.

The home needs paint and a new roof – fixes the city can’t afford to make, Wooldridge said. She said the home hasn’t had a recent inspection that could detail other maintenance and repair needs.

The Colonial Revival home was built in 1897 based on a design by Henry H. Meyers, who the Museum calls a prominent East Bay architect whose work includes the entrance to the Posey Tube and a host of veterans buildings, public buildings and churches. Meyers’ three daughters bequeathed the home to the city for use as a museum and park.

The City Council deleted a $25,000 subsidy to maintain the landmark from the city’s budget in 2008, but the city still subsidizes Alameda Museum’s rent; the city will pay $38,700 toward the museum's rent this year, with an unfunded $3,848 in matching funds to come from its annual fundraising campaign. Separately, the museum’s managers had sought a move from its current Alameda Avenue location to the Carnegie Library, but the fate of that move following the failure of a proposed sales tax increase to fund needed upgrades there is unclear; in her newsletter entry, Dileo noted the city-owned building needs millions of dollars in fixes the museum doesn’t have the money to make.

Dileo wrote that Russo was seeking a nonprofit to operate the Meyers House starting this year, and council members said they’d consider jettisoning the property after Measure C failed. Wooldridge’s report says the museum’s leaders requested that the city turn the house over to them to operate.

Since becoming Alameda’s city manager in 2011, Russo has worked to put nonprofits in charge of city assets. In January, the city handed the keys of its animal shelter to a nonprofit group, and he said Monday that he is working with local swimming and youth sports leaders on other partnership efforts.

Council members have supported the changes, though one had previously questioned whether a Meyers House deal would pan out.

“Meyers House is one of the biggest challenges. We don’t as a city have the funding (to maintain it). The Museum obviously doesn’t have the funding and the volunteer corps,” City Councilwoman Lena Tam said in a March interview about the partnerships, which she supports.

But Wooldridge, who called the proposed deal “exciting,” and said it reflects the best interests of the city and the museum, said she thinks the museum’s managers can handle the additional duties.

“The museum is at the point where they have some amazing volunteers, and they’ve created the capacity,” she said.

The Alameda Historical Society was established in 1948 and the museum opened its doors three years later, becoming the official repository for the city’s artifacts and historical documents in 1983.

In 2011 the museum raised $106,114 through memberships, contributions, lectures and other special events – including an annual home tour – and spent $108,890, tax records show. At the end of 2011 it held assets of $513,434, the records show.

Comments

Submitted by Karen Bey on Tue, Oct 30, 2012

This is great news! I hope they hire a consultant to help them create a website and marketing plan for the Meyers House. Not only can this be a great tourist attraction, but it can be used for weddings and events like the Dunsmuir House and the Cameron Stanford House in Oakland.

Submitted by Amanda Soskin on Tue, Oct 30, 2012

Seems like a great opportunity and potentially well placed under Museum managment! Execution is everything, however, there are no shortage of ideas that could underscore the home's historic significance and likely pay for themselves. Seems like a win for the community #imaginealameda.

Submitted by Chuck on Tue, Oct 30, 2012

If Measure D passes, which I support, wouldn't this transfer of city asset have to go to a vote of the electorate?

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Oct 30, 2012

Good question, Chuck. Let me ask.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, Nov 1, 2012

Hi Chuck: Got an answer for you courtesy of City Attorney Janet Kern, who says:

I am not aware of any City Council designation of the Meyers House for "public park purposes and/or recreational uses and opened to the public for public park purposes and/or recreational uses" as defined in Alameda Charter Section 22-12. Therefore, I do not believe Alameda Charter Section 22-12 would apply to a transfer of ownership of the Meyers House. Measure D proposes to modify Alameda Charter Section 22-12 but not by expanding the definition of public park to include a historic house. As such, no vote of the electorate would be required before the City Council could sell or otherwise alienate the property.

Thanks for your question!

QUICK UPDATE: Just got a link to the zoning map, which apparently shows Meyers House is zoned for residential, not park: http://www.cityofalamedaca.gov/City-Hall/Zoning-Map

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