City Moves to Acquire Somerville Armory Building

$5M approved by City Council;
Building would be preserved for arts uses

SOMERVILLE, MA – Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone submitted a $5 million proposal to the City Council to acquire the Somerville Armory building at 191 Highland Ave., which the Council approved by a unanimous vote at its May 13 meeting. The City would be acquiring the property via eminent domain and would preserve the facility for arts uses. It would be the first publicly owned arts and culture center in Somerville, a city known for its vibrant arts community.

The building is owned by the Highland Armory Realty Trust and the site has served as the home for the Center for Arts at the Armory and smaller co-tenants, mostly arts-related organizations, since 2005. The building has however been operating under a financial model that is not sustainable and the pandemic has intensified the financial strain. By acquiring the property, the City will stabilize the financial situation and develop a financially sustainable operating model that will reduce revenue pressure on arts activity, and allow the building to remain as a community arts center.

“Our city is proud of its commitment to its arts community and this is a chance for us to make a tangible investment in a permanent public space for arts activities,” said Mayor Curtatone. “We’ll be taking a historic building in the center of our city and making sure it is preserved as a civic institution. Projects like this are how we make sure the arts thrive in Somerville and remain accessible to all residents. It’s a practical investment in an essential portion of our community.”

“I am thrilled and delighted that the City Council has voted to support the Mayor’s request to take the Armory by eminent domain. The Armory is one of the most important places in Somerville for community events and gatherings of all kinds and, of course, for arts programming. Losing the Armory as a community space and a center for the arts would be a devastating blow to culture and public life in Somerville,” said Ward 5 City Councilor Mark Niedergang. “I look forward to the Armory and the Center for Arts at the Armory thriving even more than they have in the past with financial support from the City.”

Because of overhead costs, it is often difficult for arts organizations to find a permanent home. State laws limit the ability for the City to provide operating subsidies to cover a non-profit organization’s operational costs. An acquisition by the City would create needed permanently affordable arts space that will both support local arts and artists during the pandemic recovery as well as strengthen arts activity for the long term.

“It is important to proceed quickly at this site,” Mayor Curtatone said. “Our arts community needs help now. Artists have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the sooner we’re able to establish a City-owned center for the arts, the sooner we can start providing opportunities to artists. Fortunately, we are also in a window when it’s most advantageous for us to go out to bond for projects like this, meaning it will cost the City less in the long run to acquire this important site.”

The acquisition has been presented to the City Council’s Finance Committee with the hope it can be ratified during the month of May. City staff will present more details in an upcoming meeting of the Finance Committee prior to requesting that the council take a final vote.

The appraised value of the property has been set at $5 million. The City Council must approve the bond and then the City can execute the eminent domain filing. Should the bond measure be approved, the City would assume control of the property within 30 days of the vote.

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