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Special meeting about Coliseum lease is Feb. 5

Museum would occupy public building in 49-year lease

OREGON – After nearly a year in the works, a plan to lease the Oregon Coliseum to a local foundation that wants to turn it into a museum could finally be voted on next month by the City Council. 

Officials from the Coliseum Museum of Arts, Antiquities and Americana will give a presentation and answer questions at 5:30 p.m. during a meeting Feb. 5 at the Coliseum, at the corner of Fourth and Franklin streets, hosted by the Oregon City Council. 

“The council has voted to say they’re willing to take a look at it,” Oregon Mayor Ken Williams said, but “the council made a stipulation that since it’s a public building used by the community for a variety of events, we wanted to have a public forum. We won’t vote at that meeting; it’s merely an informational session. There will be public comment.”

Williams anticipates that a vote on the lease will take place at the Feb. 11 council meeting. The 49-year agreement would lease the Coliseum’s first and second floors for $1 per year. The city would continue to use the lower level.

The Coliseum is currently used for public events – but not very many.

“We found that 95% of the time, it’s empty,” Williams said. “Of the remaining 5%, a number of those functions can be held in the lower level.”

In addition, nonprofit organization Autumn On Parade uses the second floor rent-free for office space and meetings. Williams said the city would help the group find a new space.

The city would effectively become landlords to CMAAA and the museum and be responsible for upkeep of the building, which it levies a tax for operational and maintenance expenses. The building is “in really good shape,”Williams said, and isn’t in need of any costly repairs in the near future.

He said a lease’s 49-year term is necessary because museums require long-term security in order to receive donations and grants from organizations in the art world.

“People in the arts won’t support it if it won’t be there awhile,” Williams said. 

If the lease is approved by the council, a museum director would be hired, to be paid 75% by CMAAA and 25% by the city. The city’s share would come out of its economic development fund.

The director would work for the city 25% of the time and help with downtown development as well as bringing in shows, festivals and other tourism draws, Williams said.

“My organization sees that building as underutilized,” CMAAA president and Oregon School Superintendent Tom Mahoney said. “We want more traffic down there. Our vision is to have displays with local art. There’s Lorado Taft work, dioramas that he made. We would have an event that’s an exhibit of Americana like toys, tractors or trains.”

The CMAAA is made up of Oregon community leaders as well as representatives from nine governmental, not-for-profit organizations:Lawrence Foundation, Oregon School District, Oregon Park District, Oregon Public Library, Serenity Hospice & Home, Chana School, Oregon Depot, Village of Progress, and Ogle County Historical Society.

Williams believes the museum would bring people to the downtown, benefiting the city. He said Oregon is an art community with many sculptures and the CMAAA would improve that even more. 

Part of the CMAAA’s plan is to put an audio and video recording studio on the second floor that could be used by area schools as well as rented out to local businesses for commercials.

Delays in paperwork and designs have slowed down the lease process, Williams said. Designs are in place to build dividers for exhibits inside the building, an ADA-compliant ramp on the left-front corner outside and possibly putting windows back in on the side of the building. 

“The process has been great,” Mahoney said. “Any time you’re talking about changing a public building, it should take awhile.”

Concerns have been raised at meetings about the public losing control of the building, and lost building rental fees, which amounted to $13,000 in 2018. 

“The hope is to answer any questions,” Mahoney said of the Feb. 5 meeting. “This change will be hard for some people. They remember the coliseum as a different building. There hasn’t been a lot of use recently. We want to have those conversations.”

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