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Deals are in place for Sound Museum’s tenants, but not its owners

Sound Museum owners Bill and Katherine Desmond say they were misled by the city.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Add a few verses to the ballad of the Sound Museum. With the longstanding rehearsal studio’s current location in Brighton due to be vacated by the end of January, the city of Boston has identified a nearby building as a prospective new facility for the hundreds of musicians who have been ordered to move out.

IQHQ, the developer that purchased the block-long building at 155 N. Beacon St. from the Hamilton Company for a reported $50 million, had promised to provide a replacement studio for the displaced musicians. According to a deed posted online earlier this month, first reported by the Boston Business Journal, IQHQ has paid $18 million for a building at 290 N. Beacon St. which currently houses Boston Light and Sound.


But that building still requires a build-out, as well as final approval on the developer’s plans from the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA). IQHQ intends to demolish the old warehouse at 155 N. Beacon occupied by the Sound Museum and build a 400,000-square-foot life science campus in its place.

In the interim, the creative coalition Art Stays Here says it has secured a lease on a Dorchester property for a temporary “swing space” to offer the displaced musicians that should be ready by March. Located on Morrissey Boulevard, that location — known as the Beasley Media Group building — formerly housed several commercial radio stations.

The 36,000-square-foot Beasley building is due to be developed as part of a mixed-use project that will break ground in two years. Until then, owner Matthew Snyder of Center Court Properties has made the space available to the arts coalition “very much below market rate,” said Ami Bennitt, a volunteer coordinator for Art Stays Here. (Bennitt also works for the City of Boston’s Age Strong Commission for seniors.)


At Center Court’s request, Art Stays Here recently invited the operators of four rehearsal spaces in and around Boston — Studio 52, the Record Co., SUM Studios, and the Sound Museum — to apply to manage the swing space. Those businesses were due to be informed of the results of the selection process by Friday.

“They want us to enter a contest to move our tenants,” said Katherine Desmond, who has owned the Sound Museum with her husband, Bill “Des” Desmond, in various locations around Boston going back four decades. The Desmonds have rented the 155 N. Beacon St. site for more than 30 years.

The building occupied by the Sound Museum at 155 N. Beacon St. will be demolished.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

In accordance with the city’s wishes, IQHQ plans to gift the building at 290 N. Beacon St. to the city. Last January Kara Elliott-Ortega, chief of the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, sent a letter to the BPDA identifying the Sound Museum by name as “an extremely valuable and well-used cultural asset,” with a request that the developer include a proposal “to ensure the stability of the Sound Museum.” Now, the Desmonds believe they were misled.

Pending BPDA approval, the new rehearsal space in Brighton “would go through the required public process, including a request for proposals, in order to determine an operator,” Elliott-Ortega said in an e-mail Thursday. She added that the city will accept proposals from both for-profit and nonprofit operators.

The Art Stays Here coalition became involved in the rehearsal space predicament after campaigning for a recent deal for an artists’ collective to buy the Humphreys Street Studios in Dorchester.


Bennitt noted that displacement of the arts — and in particular behind-the-scenes spaces such as artists’ studios and rehearsal spaces — has been a problem in the city for decades.

“It’s no different than the housing crisis,” she said. “Property values keep going up, developers come in, and people get displaced.

“The only way for the arts to work, for the space to not go away, is to change the culture of the business,” she said. “You have to have an angel landlord or an investor who doesn’t care about making money, or else it needs to be nonprofit.”

Scott Matalon has been renting rehearsal space from the Desmonds for decades. A longtime member of several civic organizations in Allston, he faults the city for failing to stand by the owners of the Sound Museum.

“It’s an amazing thing that IQHQ bought this great building, which will eventually be a great space for musicians,” he said. “But I think it should be run by the Sound Museum. There’s no place in the public process for backroom deals.”

“My husband and I are lifelong musicians,” said Kathy Desmond. “These tenants are our friends. This is our community. We are them. We’re not commercial property owners.

“We made a promise when we got married that we’d stay in music, and find a way to make a sensible living in music, supporting the community. That’s who we are.”

E-mail James Sullivan at Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.