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