By Jorge Casuso
October 4, 2023 -- As the School Board on Thursday weighs in on negotiations to purchase the Civic Auditorium, District officials are encouraging the City to "explore and exhaust" other options.
The closed session item to negotiate "Sale Price" will be taken up two days after the newly formed group "Save the Civic" announced the District had "withdrawn its proposal to acquire the historic building."
"School District Abandons Civic Auditorium Proposal After Growing Community Opposition," the release issued Tuesday read.
District officials quickly issued a statement calling the release "false information."
"While SMMUSD remains interested in purchasing and rehabilitating the Civic Auditorium," said Superintendent Antonio Shelton, "the District encourages the City to explore and exhaust other options prior to concluding negotiations between the District and the City."
District officials also asked the group to "retract their release."
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, Save the Civic issued an update changing the wording in its headline from "abandons" to "backs away from" its proposal.
The group noted that "under California’s Surplus Land Act, the final hurdle has been removed and the City can field offers from other bidders.”
"While the District can still make an offer later, it will be competing with other entities -- entities that have experience developing and operating world-class concert venues and can restore the Civic as a premier destination for music and the arts," the release said.
The School District is the final bidder under the Surplus Land Act after the Council terminated negotiations in July with Community Corp, Santa Monica's largest affordable housing provider ("Council Ends Negotiations to Sell Civic Auditorium for Affordable Housing," July 27, 2023).
As "surplus land," the City must make the property available to specified public agencies and housing sponsors for uses that include affordable housing, parks and recreation, and schools. Only the School District and Community Corp submitted proposals.
City officials said they are awaiting confirmation from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that the proces under the Surplus land Act has been completed and the City can begin negotiating with commercial developers.
The recent developments take place less than two months after the School District unveiled a nearly $227 million plan -- excluding the purchase cost -- to renovate and re-adapt the Civic Auditorium ("School District Releases Plans for Civic Auditorium," August 11, 2023).
The construction plan for the 65-year-old structure envisions a "safe and accessible building" that can be used as a multipurpose space," District officials said.
The renovated Civic would include a "gymnasium, theater/auditorium, concert venue, exhibit facility, banquet hall and other Samohi, District and community uses."
Days later, Save the Civic issued an opinion piece saying the District's plan "is ill-advised and could expose the District to significant financial risks" ("OPINION--School District's Civic Plan 'Ill-Advised' and 'Risky,'" August 15, 2023).
Save the Civic is urging the City to find a buyer that can revive a venue that once hosted legendary rock acts and the Academy Awards, but previous efforts to resurrect the seismically compromised auditorium have failed.
The District will issue a statement Friday if an action on the closed session item is reported at Thursday's meeting, District officials said.