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Salt Lake City puts The Leonardo museum in default over hundreds of thousands in unpaid debts

Salt Lake City puts The Leonardo museum in default over hundreds of thousands in unpaid debts
Posted at 8:58 PM, Nov 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 23:00:04-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Mayor Jackie Biskupski's office has sent a notice of default to The Leonardo museum over hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.

The letter, obtained by FOX 13, said the museum has years of unpaid utility and maintenance bills.

"The Leonardo currently owes $398,717.16 for the cost of utility service to the Building and the majority of that balance is over six months past due...," the letter states.

It said that in 2017, the city agreed to let the museum pay $1,000 a month but that hasn't happened either. It also included a long list of maintenance problems, some of which the Salt Lake City Fire Department claims can be life threatening, which it said the museum is responsible for.

In a statement to FOX 13, The Leonardo said it was the City that hasn't kept the building up and said it has retained legal counsel.

"Over the past year, The Leonardo has made multiple overtures to meet with the City that have gone unanswered. While we have not always agreed on issues related to the building and its maintenance, the assertions made by the City were surprising to us and range from inaccurate to categorically false," the museum said in its statement. "Moreover, the City has not satisfied its obligations under the Agreements to maintain the building, and such failures have caused significant damage to The Leonardo."

The mayor's advisor for arts and culture said in an interview that The Leonardo also owes the city for an outstanding loan.

"All in all, they’re in it roughly around $600,000," said Kristian Anderson, the mayor's senior advisor for arts and culture. "Some of that is utilities, some of that is a past loan to the economic development loan fund."

Anderson said the city only charges The Leonardo $1 a month in rent, but is responsible for maintenance and utility payments. The letter hints at Mayor Biskupski's office seeking to add more tenants to the building, something the museum apparently did not support.

"I think everybody comes in with best intentions, but then sometimes the financial realities of the non-profit sector are challenging," Anderson said. "I hope, I know the mayor hopes, we all hope they can find a financial path forward with the city that works for everyone."

The Leonardo made no mention of its financial situation, but said in its statement it did hope to keep talking with Salt Lake City.

"We are currently in negotiations with the City. As we work in good faith toward a resolution, The Leonardo will continue to deliver on its mission to the community: serving students across the state with immersive, core-aligned STEAM curriculum; delivering unique programming to our daily patrons; and gearing up for the record crowds we expect to see with Pompeii," the museum said.

The Leonardo recently launched an exhibit of artifacts from Pompeii, the Italian city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius.

The Leonardo has faced financial difficulties with debts stretching back years. In 2018, FOX 13 reported on the museum facing a $3.6 million debt. At the time, the museum seemed optimistic about its chances of fundraising and digging out of the financial hole.

Mayor Biskupski's office said she authorized the letter of default so as not to burden the next administration with a debt.

"We’ll have to make some hard decisions as far as doing the right thing for taxpayers. Mayor Biskupski has been clear about not wanting to leave the next administration with dangling loose ends in all sorts of places in the city," Anderson said.

Mayor-elect Erin Mendenhall, who takes office in January, said in a statement she supported the decision.

"I appreciate Mayor Biskupski’s desire to resolve this before she leaves office and support her course of action," Mendenhall said.

Read the full statement by The Leonardo here:

Over the past year, The Leonardo has made multiple overtures to meet with the City that have gone unanswered. While we have not always agreed on issues related to the building and its maintenance, the assertions made by the City were surprising to us and range from inaccurate to categorically false. Moreover, the City has not satisfied its obligations under the Agreements to maintain the building, and such failures have caused significant damage to The Leonardo.

 As it was becoming increasingly clear that the City was not a good faith partner, we decided to retain legal counsel to advise us about our rights and responsibilities related to the lease and building maintenance. We intend to exercise our rights to the fullest extent of the law.  

 We are currently in negotiations with the City. As we work in good faith toward a resolution, The Leonardo will continue to deliver on its mission to the community: serving students across the state with immersive, core-aligned STEAM curriculum; delivering unique programming to our daily patrons; and gearing up for the record crowds we expect to see with Pompeii. 

Read the letter from the mayor here: