MAIN STREET — The glorious days of award shows and concerts featuring top-notch acts at the Civic Auditorium might not necessarily just be a thing of the past.
The aging facility that was once the home of the Academy Awards and drew talents like Elton John and Bob Dylan is set to see new management by the Nederlander Organization, which for the past 100 years has operated famous venues across the country, including several on Broadway, the Santa Barbara Bowl and the Pantages and Greek theatres.
The public/private partnership with the Los Angeles-based company is expected to breathe new life into a venue that many believe is in need of both a physical and programmatic makeover.
The City Council on Tuesday authorized City Manager Lamont Ewell to enter negotiations with the Nederlander Organization, which is known for its ability to secure top headline acts based on established relationships in the entertainment industry, its theaters hosting productions such as “The Lion King,” “Rent,” “Chicago” and “Avenue Q,” Jessica Cusick, the cultural affairs manager for City Hall, said in a staff report.
It was the only organization that responded when City Hall this summer began seeking companies interested in managing the Civic Auditorium. While it was the lone group to submit its qualifications, a review committee felt that Nederlander was more than capable, Cusick said.
“This is based on their years of experience, their financial capacity, their expertise in working with historic facilities,” Cusick told the council. “First and foremost in our minds was their national reputation for quality and breadth of the products they provide.”
The auditorium has long been considered overdue for improvements, needing significant upgrades to the building and technological equipment. The council in May voted to allocate approximately $25 million of Redevelopment Agency funding to pay for the renovations.
“Once the venue is retooled and renovated … both inside and outside, the civic will provide quite frankly the citizens of Santa Monica a better alternative to Los Angeles venues, bringing top flight entertainment but a lot closer to home,” said Adam Friedman, the CEO of Nederlander Concerts.
The Civic Auditorium was built in 1958, designed by renowned architect Welton Becket, who was also the man behind the Capitol Records building and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Over the past 51 years, it has hosted numerous sporting events, film festivals, exhibits and trade shows. Some of the well-known acts to have performed at the Civic include The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Prince.
In 1964, the Civic was the site of one of the most historic events in Academy Awards history when Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to receive an Oscar for his role in “Lilies in the Field.”
The venue has also played a role in the local arts community, hosting the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s annual Stairway to the Stars concert. It was also where the Santa Monica Symphony played its inaugural concert in 1958.
“This is an exciting and hopefully a historic opportunity for the city,” Councilman Richard Bloom said regarding the partnership with Nederlander. “If everything works out, (it will) create that cultural hub of the city that we have been talking about for so long, kind of recreate what’s already there.”
Bloom said he would like to see the general fund subsidy to the Civic Auditorium, which is about $1.1 to $1.3 million annually, be eliminated as a result of the public/private partnership, perhaps even bringing in a positive cash flow.
Councilwoman Gleam Davis suggested that Nederlander produce citywide events with other venues in the area including Barnum Hall at Santa Monica High School and the new Broad Stage at Santa Monica College.
“The prospect is something that would be really beneficial, creating synergy between the various venues,” she said.