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City Council Approves $47 Million for Civic Auditorium Renovation  

By Gene Williams
Lookout Staff

May 27, 2011 -- After two nights of debate about the future of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the City Council Thursday evening approved spending $47 million in an effort to return the once-prestigious hall to its former glory as popular performing arts and concert venue.

The narrow four-to-three vote -- which will allocate about one-third of Santa Monica’s total Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds to the project – came after City staff and dozens of community members urged the council to take action.

“We feel the stars have lined up for the Civic Auditorium,” City Manager Rod Gould told the council. And the chance may not come again for a long time, he added.

Gould said the plan is consistent with the council’s and community’s vision after years of discussion about what to do with the faded facility.

With an international theatrical promoter, the Nederlander organization, eager to produce shows at the venue, the City now has a strong partner ready to come on board, he said.

In addition, the RDA funds are available and there is a competitive climate among builders who will bid on the project, Gould said.

Council members Pam O’Connor, Kevin McKeown and Bob Holbrook joined Mayor Richard Bloom in voting in favor of staff’s recommendation.

Council members Bobby Shriver, Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day voted against it.

The three council members felt the City was rushing ahead out of fear it could lose its RDA funds under a proposal by California Governor Jerry Brown to abolish the agencies and put the money into the state coffers.

There are other ways to safeguard those funds and other ways to fund the Civic renovation that hadn’t been fully considered, they said.

“The only reason we’re here tonight is because of Jerry Brown,” Shriver said. “We’ve allocated RDA funding before, and there was never this kind of intensity and fear.”

“I don’t think this option is fleeting and non-recurring,” Shriver said.

O’Day – who came to the meeting from his sick bed after an emergency appendectomy Monday – offered a substitute motion.

He suggested that the RDA funds instead be spent on the demolition and rebuilding of Parking Structure 6 in Downtown – a project that is already far along in the planning stages.

By allocating the RDA funds for the parking structure, the money would be safely out of the clutches of Sacramento while giving the City more time to consider its options for the Civic, he said.

The City could then pay back the cost of rebuilding the auditorium with money generated by the parking structure, O’Day said.

Davis and Shriver supported O’Day’s motion, which later failed.

Davis pointed out the risks of engaging in the entertainment business and called for more time to consider the best way to rededicate the aging auditorium.

“We can’t preserve the Civic in a way that 10 or 15 years down the road, we’ll be having the same discussion,” Davis said.

Once the council commits to “building a theater for the Nederlanders,” all other options are “off the table,” Davis said.

Supporters of staff’s recommendation, however, said the issue has been fully looked at and should go forward.

“This process has been a long one, and I want to disagree strongly with the notion that we’re doing this tonight because there is an emergency,” Bloom said. “There has been a constant movement toward this end result.”

Supporters of the plan point out that, if nothing else was done, the Civic would still need $25 million in construction to make it earthquake-safe and bring it into compliance with federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

On top of that, the City will continue to have to subsidize the facility more than $3 million each year to keep operating it the way it is currently, which is primarily as a venue for trade shows.

The Nederlander deal, however, is expected to lower that subsidy to about $1 million and bring in an estimated $18 million in revenue to local businesses, as well as cultural and entertainment value to the area.

Thursday’s discussion was carried over from two days earlier when the council seemed deadlocked on the plan.

Holbrook – who seemed unsure of how he would vote when the question was first discussed Tuesday – came out in favor of the plan Thursday.

He noted that, historically, the city’s auditorium changes every half-century.

In the early 20th century the big auditorium was near the beach in Ocean Park; then the Civic was built in the second half of the 20th century, and now it’s time to build it again, Holbrook said.

Westside audiences are ready for it, he said.

Judging by Cirque Du Soleil’s reception in Santa Monica – the city where the avante-guard circus first turned a profit – and considering Nederlanders credentials, the plan has all the ingredients for success, Holbrook said.

“I think we can be successful if everybody pulls together and does their part,” Holbrook said.

During public comment earlier in the evening, former city manager Susan McCarthy, a member of the Santa Monica Conservancy, told the council to listen to staff.

“My experience is that Santa Monica city managers don’t recommend the expenditure of significant sums of public funds without good reason and without a lot of thought,” McCarthy said.


“We feel the stars have lined up for the Civic Auditorium.” Rod Gould

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