The Stanton Center on Custom House Plaza in Monterey was the scene of a celebration on Wednesday evening June 16, with a dedication ceremony for the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and two shows featuring a team of husband magicians and wife live from Las Vegas for the opening of the Monterey Magic & Comedy Club.
The new club is “in association with the Monterey History & Art Association,” as a sign in the lobby reads in small letters at the bottom.
The MHAA Board of Directors last month reached an agreement with the club’s owners, PREpresents, to host professional magic shows inside the Stanton Center Theater, as well as to manage the Salvador Dalí de l A non-profit organization in operation since 2016. This exhibit replaced the failing maritime museum that had occupied the building since MHAA built the center for $ 6.5 million in 1992 on city land. The deal with PREpresents was another attempt by the MHAA to make the Stanton Center a successful business, despite an original municipal lease specifying that the center was to be used for maritime and Monterey history.
While around a hundred business leaders, as well as members of the MHAA board of directors, tasted platters of appetizers and sipped wine and champagne among Dalí’s works of art exhibits – a first such gathering for many months after a pandemic, including no masks for most attendees – there was something else for MHAA to celebrate on Wednesday.
A week earlier, the Monterey County Assessment Appeal Board issued a ruling that will significantly reduce the non-profit organization’s property tax bill from a property assessment used in January 2017. The commission released findings on June 9 stating that instead of paying taxes on an assessed value of $ 2.4 million as suggested by Monterey County Assessor Steve Vagnini at a hearing of appealing to the board earlier this year, the MHAA would pay based on a value of $ 1.1 million. Which means that instead of paying over $ 24,000 a year in property taxes, the MHAA will pay half of it, or about $ 12,000.
Essentially, the appeal board split the difference between Vagnini’s valuation of $ 2.4 million and the assertion of the MHAA board member – and original owner of the work of art of Dalí – Dmitry Piterman, who demanded that the value be zero. (MHAA’s formal claim to the appeal board was valued at $ 960,000, based on calculations by the MHAA assessor.)
In response to Piterman’s request for a zero valuation, the ruling states, “This argument [of zero value] was not supported by precise calculations or evidence or fully explained.
The appraisal is an important victory for the MHAA, although it still means more than the nearly $ 400 a year that the MHAA has paid for years to the Monterey County tax collector, based on an exemption from welfare granted to many non-profit organizations. In 2016, when the MHAA board of directors struck a deal with Piterman and the museum moved to a permanent Dalí exhibit for entry, the assessor’s office determined that the MHAA no longer had right to exemption.
In rendering its decision, the Appeal Board disagreed with Vagnini’s calculation of the term of the lease in practice, and determined that he was wrongly asserting that the term of the $ 1 land lease per The city’s year was 70 years – 50 years with an option to renew for an additional 20 years, on which he based part of his calculations to arrive at $ 2.4 million.
“The board concludes on the basis of the evidence that it is unreasonable to assume that the option has been exercised,” the decision reads. Part of this evidence is the MHAA’s documented financial hardship and its decision to find a “sub-tenant” in Dalí 17, Piterman’s company. (Piterman has since started the process of donating art to the MHAA.)
The board also sided with the MHAA assessor as to the amount to be charged based on cost per square foot. The appraiser used $ 0.67 per square foot while Vagnini used $ 1.25.
There was a justification for Vagnini in the decision. During hearings that ran from 2019 to 2021, Piterman and MHAA attorney Gary Varga attempted to argue that Vagnini had a conflict of interest because he had previously served for a short period of time. on the board of directors of the MHAA.
After detailing the testimony of Piterman and Varga, the board’s decision states that it “concludes that the evidence presented does not show a relationship between Mr. Vagnini’s activities in connection with MHAA in 2015 and the value analysis by the assessor… ”
Following Wednesday night’s light magic show, featuring mental reading tips and sleight of hand, MHAA board chairman Carey Pearce was asked to comment on the commission’s decision. call. He declined to comment and only said, “Ask Steve Vagnini about this.”
“We respect the decision of the board of directors,” says Vagnini. “It ultimately boiled down to the length of possession. The council felt that the city would increase the rent and that the MHAA would not choose to exercise the option for the lease. [for an additional 20 years]. It is the decision of the board of directors and we honor it.
Vagnini further says he is honoring a promise he made during the hearings, that regardless of the board’s decision in the one year the MHAA appealed, 2017, his office will use the assessment of the appeal commission of $ 1.1 million for each year thereafter, although it is not necessary. “It’s the right thing to do,” he says.
In the meantime, the issues surrounding MHAA are far from over. Monterey officials said last month they were reviewing the lease that specifies how the property is to be used to educate people about the history of the area. Also last month, the MHAA filed a lawsuit against the county in Monterey County Superior Court to challenge the removal of the welfare exemption. It was filed a year after the county dismissed an appeal in 2020, which passed the six-month deadline for bringing legal action in such cases.
For now, the MHAA had something else to celebrate: PREpresents partner Paul Reder said the twice-a-night magic shows in the 100-seat theater have been sold out since they launched on Memorial Day weekend. . Presale tickets sell for $ 32, $ 37 on the day of the show. VIP row seats cost an additional $ 10.
A portion of the money from these sales will be used to pay for MHAA property tax expenses.