The council unanimously voted to have staff begin negotiating a partnership with the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation. An agreement will return to the council at a future meeting.
The foundation is beginning a fundraising drive for the renovation and expansion project. Under the proposal, the city will match the foundation's private fundraising, spending $1.7 million of public money.
"It's time for us, as a council, to recognize the helping hand that's been offered to us," Councilman Jack Morton said.
The building that houses the Art Center was constructed in 1956, and few improvements have been made since. The building's systems, such as its ventilation and bathrooms, need repair. It also has no air conditioning.
The nonprofit foundation has conceptual designs for how it would like to expand the center but has yet to make them public. Its leaders say they hope to add a new gallery and expand the classrooms.
The council's action gives the Art Center project priority over numerous other needed improvements to the city's aging infrastructure. Council members said they gave the museum and educational facility a boost because the private foundation was willing to raise matching funds.
Nearly 20 speakers, including a few children, extolled the virtues of the center, and asked the council to move ahead with the project. More than 50 art lovers attended the meeting, wearing lime green buttons to show their support for the project.
During the 2004-2005 fiscal year, there were more than 75,000 people who attended the Art Center.
The council's vote was unanimous, but two members — Yoriko Kishimoto and John Barton — were absent.