Santa Monica City Hall Considering Options For Civic Auditorium

Friday, 7 Jun 2013, 8:58:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

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.

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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