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Santa Monica City Council members will try to answer the question of what to do with the Civic Auditorium at their Tuesday meeting. It is slated to go dark on June 30.
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Santa Monica City Council members will try to answer the question of what to do with the Civic Auditorium at their Tuesday meeting. It is slated to go dark on June 30.

News, City Council, Santa Monica, Civic Auditorium

Santa Monica City Hall Considering Options For Civic Auditorium

Posted Jun. 7, 2013, 8:58 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium will go dark June 30.

What was once a premiere venue where the world’s most famous musicians performed and The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences held its prestigious Oscar awards ceremony has now become relegated to hosting the occasional meeting for a handful of people inside a room with a capacity of about 200 people.

A world-class venue during the 1960s has become the subject of a disheartening question: how to keep the Civic Auditorium’s doors open?

Sharing the same architect – Welton Becket – and similar opening date to the Los Angeles Sports Arena (1958 for the Civic, 1959 for the Sports Arena), Santa Monica officials believe the Civic Auditorium can be salvaged and converted into a world-class venue, just like it was more than 50 years ago.

Some residents also want to see the Civic Auditorium renovated and upgraded. More than 100 supporters attended a City-sponsored workshop and forum earlier this week to brainstorm some options of how to keep the venue open.

A few interesting facts and tidbits came out of the Tuesday night workshop. For example, City officials have spent portions of the past seven years trying to figure out a way to keep the Civic Auditorium operational.

During those seven years, City Hall had come up with a plan to retrofit the Civic Auditorium and bring it up to current seismic standards. Even more, Council members authorized a third-party event planner and promoter –the Nederlander Organization – in 2011 to breathe some life back into the Civic Auditorium. A five-year deal was in the works for Nederlander to bring a full season of programming to the venue.

However, with the loss of redevelopment funding in 2012, the City’s plans with Nederlander was put on hold. Since then, City Hall made the tough decision to close down the Civic Auditorium.

According to City staff, even if a viable plan is put in place to save the Civic Auditorium, it will take at least five years for its doors to open again and the curtains to rise on the first event there.

So the natural question is asked: what to do for the next five years?

The City Council will try to answer that question at its meeting on Tuesday, as the elected panel considers an interim use plan.

Some of the ideas City staff shared with community members at the June 4 forum included continued use of the East Hall for public events or meetings. Also recommended: use the main hall as a sound stage for film production.

As for how to raise the money to have a revitalized Civic Auditorium open on the other side of those five years, City staff suggested raising taxes via a general obligation bond. However, such a bond, which would increase how much property owners pay on their annual assessed value, require approval by two-thirds of Santa Monica’s voters.

If approved, the tax levy to be assessed upon property owners would be, according to City staff, about $12 per $100,000 of assessed value. That may translate to an additional $60 to $600 in property taxes per year for most homeowners in Santa Monica.

Other ideas knocked around included private funding, renting parking space, granting naming rights to a corporate sponsor, and foreign investment.

There is also the question of whether to convert the Civic Auditorium into a state-of-the-art facility or keep the facility as is and grant it landmark status.

Also, should the City revive plans to lease out the venue to an entertainment company such as Nederlander? Another question: should the Civic Auditorium’s financial model be for-profit or non-profit?

Whatever course of action the City decides to embark upon, officials conceded at the June 4 workshop the process is still in its infancy.

Looking forward, there are a few challenges City Hall is facing in revitalizing the Civic Auditorium.

For example, during the past few years the Civic Auditorium has operated at an annual deficit as high as $2 million.

According to an Urban Land Institute report on the Civic Auditorium issued last month, the venue is “functionally obsolete” and has “deferred maintenance issues.”

“The operating model has imbedded costs that the market cannot and will not carry,” the report continued.

That operating model features government subsidies to keep the venue operational and the option to use the facility at no charge for city departments and civic events.

City staff added the venue “presents seismic safety concerns” and is “antiquated.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle: both the ULI report and City Hall estimate the Civic Auditorium would require $50 million in capital funds to renovate.

Just how City Hall will be able to find the funds to revitalize the Civic Auditorium remains to be seen. The process to search for the answer – or answers – continues when council members return to the dais June 11.

Stay tuned to The Mirror for continued coverage of the Civic Auditorium next week.

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