City Council committee advances Chicano Park museum lease

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee Wednesday advanced a 20-year lease paving the way for a museum and community center at a city-owned property adjacent to Chicano Park.

The Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center nonprofit has for several decades sought to move into the 9,890-square-feet building at 1960 National Ave., which formerly housed an adult education campus.

The vacant property would allow the 48-year-old nonprofit to expand services, programs and exhibitions related to the art, history and sciences of the Americas, with an emphasis on U.S.-Mexico border region cultures.

City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez said the museum is vital to honoring the Barrio Logan community.

“This is not just a building. This is the recognition of people — the struggles. And we just got to recognize that,” said Gomez, who was born a block away from the prospective site. “It’s beyond the walls that we celebrate.”

The City Council is responsible for final approval of the lease.

The proposed center includes a gallery and exhibition space; conference rooms; an archival room; a collections space; and  educational training rooms for arts, history, science and hands-on activities.

Under the proposed lease, the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center would pay the city’s annual nonprofit administrative rent, which is currently $3,597 per year.

The nonprofit would be responsible for all maintenance, repairs and capital improvements at the property. However, “if adequate funds are available,” the city may improve systems that “benefit the city,” such as roof, plumbing and electrical systems.

City budgets from the current and previous years include $500,000 and $100,000 for capital improvement projects at the building. City Councilman David Alvarez requested a city report be prepared on the ability to use allocated funds when City Council considers the lease.

The city is engaging in direct lease negotiations with the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center due to public benefit derived from the project, and its unique alignment with Chicano Park and the surrounding community. April McCusker with the city Real Estate Assets Department said no other groups have expressed interest in the building.

Chicano Park was established in 1970 under the Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan. Colorful murals depict historical events and civil rights leaders, among other things, on bridge pylons throughout the space, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Initial negotiations to create the park resulted in agreement that the National Avenue building would eventually be operated for community use.

In 1980, the Chicano Park Steering Committee allowed the building to be used for adult education. The committee resumed lease conversations with the city in 2015 after school officials vacated the building.