BOISE — The Boise Art Museum has been based in its Julia Davis Park building since 1937, when the museum was built with the help of donors. Now, nearly 85 years later, the museum and the city of Boise are embroiled in a months-long dispute over how much rent the museum should pay and how much the city should allocate to support it.
The Boise City Council approved a short-term lease with the museum on February 1 so that the museum could remain at its location at 670 Julia Davis Drive until a long-term contract could be approved. The museum will not pay any rent while negotiations continue.
For years, the museum paid $1 a year to lease its park site. Meanwhile, the city contributes about $45,000 a year for a full-time maintenance employee.
Executive Director Melanie Fales told the Idaho Statesman that the museum’s $1 rent stems from the fact that the museum built the building with its own funds in the 1930s and has paid for renovations three times since. The city and the museum had previously signed an agreement with no expiry date in 1996.
Fales said the museum had two main concerns: making sure it had a lease longer than 10 years and rejecting an earlier proposal from the city to have the option of providing 60 days’ notice to terminate the lease. She said 60 days would create too much uncertainty for the museum because exhibits are planned months in advance.
“We want to put these insurances in place for the long term,” Fales said.
The council approved a nonprofit lease ordinance in 2021 for more than a dozen nonprofits to which the city leases property. Part of that deal required the nonprofits to pay a portion of fair market rent, no more than $2,000 per month, and have a 10-year lease agreement. The museum declined. It remains the only association not to sign an agreement with the city.
During a Jan. 11 business session, city council members said the issue was making sure the city could recoup some of its costs from nonprofits.
“What we’re tasked with doing every day is be stewards of taxpayers’ money and make sure we’re using our resources wisely in a way that’s fair to everyone and that we don’t let’s not play favorites,” board member Holli Woodings said.
Frustrated by the museum’s resistance, the board decided in December not to provide financial assistance until a new lease was signed.
Fales said the museum has not explained how or if the increased rent price will lead to higher admission fees or other costs for visitors.
“I can’t speculate on that,” she said. “I would prefer that we consider this once we know what our long-term deal will actually look like.”
A new lease should be presented to the council in July.