The Watsonville City Council at its Tuesday meeting signed off on an agreement with Pajaro Valley Arts for the sale of the historic Porter Building in downtown Watsonville.
In a deal some two years in the making, PV Arts will pay the city $1.15 million for the two-story, 15,000-square-foot building that has stood for more than 100 years at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue. The nonprofit plans to renovate the building into a sanctuary for local artists with gallery exhibits, art retail space and a multipurpose room for performances, meetings, events, workshops and additional special exhibits. The organization would also create several classrooms for seniors and young people and artists’ studios on the second floor.
Artist Judy Stabile, a representative for PV Arts, said the organization hopes to complete the renovations and move in by 2025, though that timeline can change depending on how quickly it can raise money for the restoration.
PV Arts Board President Trina Coffman-Gomez said the nonprofit will need around $1.3-1.5 million to follow through on its extensive reconstruction plans.
The purchase was made possible through a $1 million donation from an “angel” donor and a $540,000 grant from Community Vision Capital & Consulting, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
PVA and the city expect to close escrow by the end of July. According to the agreement, it will then have 180 days to show the city that it has stood up a fundraising campaign and brought aboard a manager to lead those efforts. The nonprofit will also have to provide quarterly progress reports to the city.
The agreement also states that PV Arts cannot use the building for any other purpose than what was laid out in its business plan for the next 30 years, and that if they choose to sell the building within that time, the city would be the first in line to buy the property back.
“I have confidence in the Pajaro Valley Arts Council that they will be able to do what they say they’re going to do and to engage the community as much they possibly can,” Councilmember Lowell Hurst said. “This will be a bridge to schools and the artist community.”
The deal is not only a major move for the small nonprofit currently headquartered at a city-owned building on Sudden Street but for the arts community as a whole. It follows the recent approval of plans from Arts Council Santa Cruz County to establish a performing arts studio just down the street from the Porter Building and a development fee to fund public art projects.
“Art moves communities, and the community needs to continue to be moved forward,” said former Watsonville City Councilmember Aurelio Gonzalez, who before he stepped down from his seat last year for personal reasons was one of the original champions of the project. “This is going to be good for the community.”
Gonzalez was one of a handful of people who spoke in support of the deal.
Coffman-Gomez said that the move also fits into the city’s plans for the downtown area that it is currently forging through a downtown specific plan, a document that will serve as a blueprint for the future development of the corridor.
“I believe it will really encourage the foot traffic that we want downtown,” the former city council member said.
The city put the Porter Building, which was designed by famed local architect William Weeks and constructed in 1903, up for sale in 2019. It was the second time that decade the municipality had sought a buyer for the property.
The building was nearly sold in 2015 after Ceiba College Prep Academy moved out, but a deal with Walnut Creek’s Novin Development fell through and it has sat empty since.
The building served as the post office until 1913 and has also served as a dentist office and an army surplus store.
It was one of the few historic buildings in Watsonville’s downtown that survived the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake with minimal damage.