In what might be their last significant act before relinquishing control of the Anaheim City Council, the current council majority gave a fledgling nonprofit the exclusive right to negotiate with the city to develop, and possibly purchase, the site where the City National Grove now stands.

The agreement would give the Anaheim Performing Arts Center Foundation — which is run by Anaheim Hills residents Howard and Linda Knohl — the opportunity to develop the property into much larger performing arts center.

As it often has been in recent years, the council vote was 3-2, with Councilman Jordan Brandman, and councilwomen Lucille Kring and Kris Murray, voting to approve the deal; and Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt voting against it.

Tait said the decision appeared to be rushed without opportunity for public comment, and argued that the council should not make a binding decision on a major city property at the last meeting before the newly elected city council is sworn in on Dec. 13.

“This is a big real estate asset…one choice would be to sell that property to fund youth programs throughout the city for the arts,” said Tait. “These are choices that are made…and I think they would be better made by a council elected by districts and with ample opportunity for public input.”

Members of the council majority — who have all been beneficiaries of campaign donations from the Knohls in recent years– pointed out that the agreement gives the council full authority to turn down any proposals. Also, any decisions on how the property is be used would come back to the new City Council for further approval.

“We’re not agreeing or committing anything other than negotiating with APAC so they can privately fund a world class performing arts center,” Murray said. “This is one step in a still yet lengthy process before the city would ever  enter into a permanent agreement.”

The agreement approved Tuesday does not obligate the city to enter into any agreement, and in order to keep the deal, the foundation would need to meet a number of conditions, including conducting public outreach meetings and a fundraising goal of $20 million by March 2018, and the full cost of the development by 2020.

The City Council has discussed the performing arts center for several years, with Murray last year requesting a symbolic resolution in which the city committed to working with the foundation to construct the performing arts center.

Vanderbilt questioned how the city moved from passing the resolution last October — which was at the time requested by the foundation as means of showing potential donors the city’s commitment to the project —  to an exclusive negotiation agreement, which the foundation requested for the same reason.

“I don’t think this is a matter of waiting for another council…I do think it’s worth exploring how we got to this point and that we have engaged all stakeholders,” said Vanderbilt.

Adam Millar, general manager of the Grove who works for Nederlander Concerts, the company that leases the facility, did not speak against the proposed project. But he pointed to the success of the Grove, which has generated $7.6 million in total revenue for the city since they purchased the facility for $6.7 million in 2002.

Nederlander’s lease on the facility expires in Dec. 2020.

“As you consider agenda item 17…please also consider the tremendous success of the current operations of the venue,” said Millar.

The foundation has struggled since it was created in 2008 to raise money, often spending more on its fundraising events than it has raised.

Vanderbilt also pushed for a small change in language that would require the Foundation to produce both bank statements and legally binding contracts to back their financial commitments, rather than just one or the other. His motion failed, with Brandman, Kring and Murray voting against it.

Kring, appearing impatient, bristled at many of Vanderbilt’s questions.

“We have the Angels here and they aren’t saying anything, we have GardenWalk here and they aren’t saying anything, we have LT [Global] here and they aren’t saying anything,” said Kring, referring to some of the business interests near the project site. “So the stakeholders have more than looked at it. I don’t know what anyone of us could say that would make you feel comfortable.”

Contact Thy Vo at or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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