Neon Art

Classic neon signage from Glendale's La Fonda dancers, from the collection of the Museum of Neon Art. (Courtesy Museum of Neon Art / October 11, 2012)

Glendale will get its museum of neon after all.

The Museum of Neon Art, which was in jeopardy of losing its $5.2-million deal to move to Glendale, will move forward as planned, according to Philip Lanzafame, the city's officer for economic development and asset management.

After a closed–session meeting on Wednesday at City Hall, the board in charge of winding down redevelopment-related obligations and assets decided to honor the city's commitments to Los Angeles-based MONA, which would have faced homelessness if the deal had fallen through.

“I'm not only thrilled, but I'm relieved,” said Kim Koga, executive director of MONA, which shut its doors in downtown Los Angeles to prepare for a 2013 move to Glendale.

The fate of the deal had been up in the air after the state in February dissolved local redevelopment agencies to send property taxes set aside for development and affordable housing to Sacramento to close a budget gap. It also set up an oversight board composed of officials from Glendale Unified, Los Angeles County and the city and gave it the power to cancel contracts as they decide which obligations will be fulfilled and what assets will go to the state.

That board was considering changing the MONA deal signed in 2011, which promised redevelopment funds to renovate and acquire property across Brand Boulevard from the Americana at Brand for the project. In addition, the museum was promised two years of free rent. After that, monthly rent would increase over time from $2,500 to $5,000, plus a portion of revenues more than $600,000.

But in the end, the board decided not to touch the deal. Officials are barred from talking about specifics of the meeting.

“I don't know if it was the last hurdle, but it was definitely a big hurdle in a way that was definitely unexpected,” Koga said.

The redevelopment money, which is mostly for exterior renovations, will also cover some interior construction, but not all of it, Koga said.

The museum still needs to raise at least $2.7 million to build classrooms, offices and a gift store, she added.

Part of the fundraising will also be set aside for operating revenues. The goal is to have a solid amount of funding for the next five years, which is when Koga expects more revenue will begin to flow.

Proponents of the project say the art institution will drive tourists to Glendale's shopping center, while opponents have called the deal a government handout for a struggling nonprofit.

MONA reported budget deficits of about $33,000 and $18,000 in 2009 and 2010, respectively, according to its tax returns.

City officials have already spent $2.7 million in money set aside for redevelopment on property acquisition and design.

MONA likely won't open its doors until 2014, but it continues to host bus tours highlighting neon sights in and around Glendale. Two tours held in Glendale so far have both sold out, with waiting lists.

“It never was that way in the past in downtown [Los Angeles],” Koga said.

In response to the interest, MONA officials have replaced Los Angeles with Glendale as the starting point for its annual holiday lights tour in December.

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