The landmark Santa Monica Civic Auditorium remains on track to close indefinitely by July 2013, as city leaders will continue to weigh potential solutions for the future of the facility.
The 54-year-old venue, which city staff say presents seismic safety issues and has outdated functions, was planned to receive nearly $52 million in renovations, primarily funded by redevelopment agency money.
The City Council voted to close the auditorium indefinitely as of June 30, 2013 but the removal of redevelopment agencies by the state left the renovation project funding uncertain.
After being presented several possible options for the structure’s future, the council voted Oct. 23 to remain on target for the June 30 planned closure, allowing for the shutdown to be factored into the budget process.
The 3,000-seat facility, which has primarily hosted consumer shows in recent years, costs the city approximately $2 million per year to stay in operation.
“The situation we’re faced with is that the Civic can’t continue to operate as is,” city cultural affairs manager Jessica Cusik told the council.
Designed by Welton Becket in the classic Streamline Moderne style, the Civic Auditorium was designated a city landmark in 2001. In its more than five-decade-long history, the facility has been the site of consumer shows, community events and concerts headlined by big name acts such as the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. It also became part of Hollywood history by hosting the Academy Awards from 1961 to 1968.
“It’s history is critical to our community,” Cusik said.
The venue’s role in the community, which includes being the former home of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, has influenced the desire of many residents to see the landmark building preserved and refurbished, Cusik told the council.
“Multiple planning initiatives have confirmed the community’s desire to see the Civic restored and brought to life again as the cultural life of our community,” she said.
Four options that have been identified by staff for the future of the Civic include a partial renovation, full renovation as a multi-purpose performing arts venue, an adaptive re-use, or demolition.
Under partial renovation the city could take limited investment and perform a basic seismic retrofit for an estimated cost between $8-10 million. With a full renovation the Civic could become a city-managed facility with an exclusive presenter or leased to a performing arts presenter.
The adaptive reuse option would transform the facility into uses like a museum, meeting and events center or office spaces. Construction for this option could cost up to $80 million. Demolition of the existing building could allow for a new state-of-the-art facility but would take away a valued community landmark, staff said.
Funding sources for some of the renovation recommendations could include a general obligation bond or capital campaign. The auditorium will need to be secured and monitored and its facilities maintained while the building is shut down, Cusik noted. Maintenance is expected to cost approximately $185,000 per year.
Some preferred options of staff include full renovation with an exclusive presenter or long-term lease presenter, which would help preserve the facility for cultural use.
The center is currently staffed with 20 permanent management and event employees and six as-needed workers. Responding to council concerns about the loss of jobs, City Manager Rod Gould said the city is exploring ways to transfer the employees to other departments due to the closure.
Local activist Jerry Rubin supported refurbishment of the Civic, which he said is “probably one of the greatest facilities Santa Monica has ever had.”
Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, said the board has expressed its strong support for preservation and rehabilitation of the “important city landmark,” and does not want demolition to be considered.
“We see no circumstances under which demolition is an appropriate option for consideration,” Lemlein said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown was blunt in his rejection of demolition, saying “no way.” “I’ve always thought of the Civic Auditorium as a gift we’ve been given by our past,” said McKeown.
McKeown, who had the only vote against setting the June 30 closure, said he also had concerns about “mothballing” of the venue that could lead to deterioration.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis agreed that it would be a shame to board up the city venue for a long time, and referring to the excitement for preserving the Civic, she hopes it will stay accessible to the local community.
“We certainly recognize that the value of the Civic is as a cultural venue and there is tremendous interest in preserving it as such,” she said.
Mayor Richard Bloom said he believes the city needs to stay on course for the planned June 30 closure because he doesn’t think the city can sustain the continued financial losses of keeping it open in its current state and the money saved could be spent on other community priorities.
The council directed staff to return with options to decide on the Civic’s future in January. §