By Jorge Casuso
October 6, 2023 -- The School District will not submit a proposal to purchase and rehabilitate the Civic Auditorium unless the City fails to find another buyer, District officials said Friday.
The decision "to step aside" and continue implementing major improvements at Samohi near the Civic site was announced after the School Board discussed the issue in closed session Thursday night.
"During this pause, SMMUSD will continue its pursuit of the current Samohi Campus Plan on the existing campus," a statement issued by the Disrict said.
"If the City does not receive an acceptable offer from another entity within a reasonable time frame, the District will re-engage with the City to develop a proposal and explore a potential agreement."
The move comes two months after the District unveiled a nearly $227 million plan (excluding the purchase cost) to renovate the 65-year-old structure on 3 acres of City owned land and turn it into a multi-use space.
The plan -- which includes "a gymnasium, theater/auditorium, concert venue, exhibit facility and banquet hall -- would add much needed land space to Samohi, enabling the district to re-envision its campus plan.
Since the plan was unveiled, a grass roots movement emerged too save the Civic, which once hosted legendary rock acts and the Academy Awards. Proponents say they expect other interested parties will bid for the site, although previous efforts have failed.
“We agree that it is in the public’s best interest to step aside at this time so other proposals may be considered by the City,” said Superintendent Antonio Shelton.
“While the City has entertained prior proposals, it has been many years and this provides a renewed opportunity to expand their search for a potential buyer that meets the interests of the community."
Although the District will not submit a proposal at this time, its "extensive" feasibility study "makes clear the potential for this community gem to be restored to its glory," officials said.
The plan also would expand the Samohi campus footprint and reduce "time and costs associated with the current plan limited to the existing campus."
“We truly believe that the purchase of the Civic by SMMUSD is a win-win for our students and the community with our plans to maintain the landmark designation and rehabilitate the deteriorating facility to its glory as a performance, event and sports venue,” Shelton said.
The District, officials noted, continue to meet with neighborhood associations, non-profit organizations, PTA and other parent groups "to share the SMMUSD plan to purchase and rehabilitate the Civic."
The District was the lone remaining bidder for the historic structure, which requires extensive seismic retrofitting, under the State's Surplus Land Act, which prioritizes affordable housing, parks and recreation, and schools.
City officials said they are awaiting confirmation from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that the process under the Surplus Land Act has been completed and the City can begin negotiating with commercial developers.