November 5th, 2019
With great sadness, I must announce that the Carnegie Innovation Hall team will halt efforts to revitalize Carnegie Library in Alameda, until this or a future city government can truly lean in and help make this project happen. This is not a decision my team has come to lightly. Rather, over the past 6 weeks, it has become painfully clear that we are missing the most critical element of the project: a city government that fully supports and values what we intend to bring to this project and the community.
I want to personally express my deepest appreciation to all the volunteers who have contributed, and for your belief and faith that we could make the Carnegie Innovation Hall dream a reality. We have built an amazing and dedicated team. You are what make this decision all the more difficult. Projects like these take a lot of vision and belief against the odds to come to life, and there’s been tremendous community support. Thank you again.
Almost two years ago, I began this as a labor of love in my hometown of Alameda. The Carnegie Innovation Hall promises to be a community destination like no other—a vibrant, magical space that would bring young people and adults of all walks of life together to dream, learn, and grow—through innovative educational opportunities, entrepreneurial programming, and the performing arts. I hope that one day the dream we all believe in can become a reality.
My role as founder of The Crucible (the nation’s largest nonprofit industrial arts education facility, located in West Oakland) and director of Stanford’s ReDesigning Theater Project, along with my other experiences, uniquely qualify me to take on this very challenging task. I have not entered into this work lightly; I know what it takes to transform dreams like this into reality and how to raise the funds to make it happen.
My motivation for doing this work has always been to give back to the Alameda community I have been a part of for more than a decade. Breathing new life into the Carnegie Library that has sat vacant for last 20+ years is something I have imagined for many years. I also hope to continue creating performances (without all that fire).
Along with the volunteer Carnegie team, our dream has been to raise $6.5 million to renovate the Carnegie Library, which is located in the heart of downtown Alameda. Our plan is to restore this 1902 historical building to its former grandeur and majesty, and house our nonprofit community programming, while making the beautifully revitalized space available for public and private events as well.
Our programming would adapt to meet the wants and needs of our community, within the context and juncture of innovation, arts, performance, and education. We had hoped to create a unique theater venue for artists to produce new spectacular forms of theatrical experiences, as well as provide an entrepreneurial and learning launchpad for all. We were especially looking forward to our partnership with Alameda Public High School, to house a public access television station.
From the very beginning of our effort in February of 2018, we sought a collaborative, mutually beneficial partnership with the City of Alameda. The previous mayor and city manager told us we could start working on a fundraising and a lease proposal, but in August of 2018 we were told to halt our efforts and wait to apply to the city’s request for qualifications (RFQ) process. We applied, and in January of 2019 we were notified that we were selected over one other applicant.
We began working with city staff on a letter of intent with lease terms based on the guidelines listed in the City’s RFQ. Over the next several meetings, we negotiated terms of a ground lease, and then were told our lease would go to a City Council vote on June 2nd 2019.
Concurrently, we filed for non-profit status and set up the critical elements up the organization. We logged countless volunteer hours, including efforts of our volunteer advisors in architecture, restoration, construction, labor, land use, funding, education, organization building, community outreach, diversity, sustainability, volunteer organizing, and finance.
Delays and Contradiction
The City postponed Council vote on our lease from June to July, and then again to September. When we voiced concerns about the delays, staff proposed a licensing agreement to give us access to the building, so we could show the property to funders and start preliminary design work on renovation. The licensing agreement was based on negotiated lease terms to date, and included property insurance, which we began paying at that time. Before the September City Council vote, the mayor pulled our lease vote into closed session for discussion.
While we knew the lease would not be not finalized until it was voted on by City Council, we were certainly not prepared for the Council to make new demands that were contrary the original guidelines of the RFQ. Nevertheless, we worked to accommodate these new requests—only to be met with more last-minute alterations. We have been forced to continually reevaluate how these changes affected our ability to move forward. It has become apparent that the City’s added terms have open-ended conditions that increase the uncertainly of the project and add additional, critical negotiations months down the road.
These late-stage demands have rendered the success of our project more challenging and uncertain, while diminishing our ability to thrive long-term as a nonprofit. Meanwhile, the delays caused us to miss a critical funding window with a foundation we’d hoped would provide our seed funding. Most importantly, we fear the events of the past six months foreshadow a sustained ineffective and even detrimental relationship with our most critical partner—the City of Alameda.
A number of our core team members were involved in the leadership of The Crucible in West Oakland. We originated in Berkeley in 1999, and while we had city support, the zoning department made our ability to run our organization nothing short of impossible, because they could not fit us into any of their classifications. So we moved to Oakland and the difference was immediate. There, we were supported, and the City of Oakland and its community have benefitted tremendously.
On a related note, for the past five months, I have been working as a consultant to the government of New Zealand to study innovation sectors around the world. I have been examining what kind of organization/government relationship models do and do not work for innovation to happen in a given location. The irony is not lost on me that my hometown is presenting all the reverse indications for a mutually beneficial creative relationship.
We feel the current city government does not support or value what we have to offer Alameda. We are a nonprofit organization—dedicated to giving back to our community as an educational, entrepreneurial, entertainment, and community resource—yet we are being treated as if we were a private developer with bottomless pockets and profits on our mind.
We know what true partnership with a city government looks and feels like, and sadly, we are forced to accept that we simply do not have it at this time. After much deliberation, we have decided to put the Carnegie Innovation Hall project in Alameda on hold. The building has waited 21 years to be reborn, but it must again wait until this or a future city government can truly work with us to help make this project a reality.
You can watch the City Council debate before the vote HERE.
Discussion of Carnegie Innovation Hall begins at 26:13 in the video.
Michael Sturtz and the Carnegie Innovation Hall team