Civic Group Unable To Avert $1 Lease Renewal

OCEAN CITY – The $1 lease renewal of the Art League Building was met with heated debate this week as the Little Salisbury Civic Association put a competitive $1,000 bid for the building on the table.

The annual motion to renew the lease for the Art League of Ocean City building on 94th Street for $1 was presented at Tuesday’s work session but was immediately met with conflict. Councilwoman Nancy Howard made the motion and was quickly faced with contention from Jay Phillips, a local attorney and member of the Little Salisbury Civic Association, who claimed Howard could not be involved with the vote due to her connection with the Art League. It was decided that because Howard receives no Art League compensation she was able to participate in the vote and in the discussion.

Howard then continued by saying, “The Art League offers another dimension to what this city already presents.” Councilman Jim Hall immediately agreed and put his full support behind the motion.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas did not show the same support. “I’m not going to be able to support this for a dollar,” she said.

Councilman Jay Hancock weighed in on the current conflict over renewing the lease.

“The conflict is the access to the building to groups other than the Art League,” he said.

The group that he was referring to was the Little Salisbury Civic Association who had several members present at the meeting. Representing those members was Phillips.

“They don’t have the right to renew,” Phillips began as he explained that the renewal form of the lease had failed to be filled out by the Art League. Phillips said the Little Salisbury Civic Association now has the right to bid on the lease.

“We are submitting a lease for a one-year rental of $1,000,” he said.

Phillips added the civic association would allow other groups, including the Art League, to use the building.

The Little Salisbury Civic Association’s quest for control of the building began when they were unable to gain access to the building this year for its annual, four-hour meeting on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. According to Phillips, this is the only time of year they use the building, they have always used this space and wish to continue to do so.

“Why would you want to take over this endeavor for your four hours a year?” Councilwoman Mary Knight asked. Phillips responded by saying, “the Art League’s position has driven us to do that.”

Rena Thaler, president of the Art League and resident of the Little Salisbury area for over 20 years, came before the council to defend the Art League’s position.

“You cannot measure $1 versus $1,000,” she said in reference to the new bid. “The Art League provides thousands of thousands of dollars to this town.”

Thaler went on to explain the numerous benefits that the Art League adds to the town and also the importance of maintaining use of a building that was designated for the Art League.

Thaler also pointed out that there are other places that the Little Salisbury Civic Association could meet. “Eleven people don’t need to meet for $1,000 a year,” she said.

Alfred Harrison came forward in support of the Art League as well. He said he has volunteered a lot of time into converting the old building with the thought and hope that it would become and remain a home to the Art League.

Phillips came before the council again to stress that he and the Little Salisbury Civic Association did not have the goal of demeaning art or the Art League.

“Read my lips, we are not against the Art League,” he said.

Phillips assured the council that the building would still be available to the Art League and to any other group that wants to use it. He also addressed Thaler’s points, explaining that more than just the 11 board members need to meet, explaining there are 130 members.

Both Hancock and Councilman Lloyd Martin interceded stressing the importance of a compromise.

Little Salisbury resident Patti Miller offered her home as a meeting place for the annual meeting. “I don’t want to lose the Art League for our neighborhood,” she said.

Jeff Thaler addressed the council and suggested the Little Salisbury Civic Association meet in the new Ocean City library branch, which is to be completed by the end of the year and is close to Little Salisbury. He also pointed out that “the building can only hold 65 people as mandated by the fire marshal.” He suggested that the new library, with meeting rooms holding up to 150 people, would be more appropriate for the 130 members.

Other town residents voiced their opinion on the matter as well. Ellie Diegelman suggested a public hearing for the building claiming, “this is a ridiculous fiasco” and accusing Hall of steamrolling the Art League into the building.

Herb Pawlukewicz felt there should be no lease for the building because it is a public building.

After hearing numerous opinions on the matter, the council voted 5-1 in favor of renewing the lease to the Art League for one year for $1 with Pillas in opposition and Hancock abstaining.