As lovers of live music who spent many nights as teenagers in packed legion halls subjecting our delicate ear drums to the rat-tat-tat or the boom-bap, we were excited by the new partnership between City Hall and Nederlander Concerts, a well-respected concert producer that will take over operations at the historic Civic Center Auditorium, which is slated for a $25 million retrofit if Gov. Brown doesn’t snatch City’s Hall’s redevelopment funds.
Councilman Kevin McKeown is right. It is “sad” to see what has happened to a venue that once hosted the Oscars and rock gods like Bruce Springsteen. The council is to blame. Renovations and improvements should have been made sooner and management at the site has been horrible, even for an venue that is showing its age and realistically can’t compete in its present form. When the hottest thing going is a cat show or a free concert by the Santa Monica Symphony, you know you have a problem. It’s about time the council handed over the keys to a company that knows what it’s doing (sorry current staff, but you haven’t been pulling your weight).
When Nederlander takes the reigns, we would love to see a good mixture of hot pop acts and Grammy award winners that appeal to all types of fans. Broadway shows, classical music and trade shows will also help with the mix. That said, the council was right in ensuring that the venue will still be available for community events like the Stairway of the Stars (which will be taking place April 7 and 8 and feature public school musicians). The venue is a community resource subsidized by the taxpayers so there should be room for residents to showcase their talents.
As far as naming rights go, it was floated around at Tuesday’s council meeting. We aren’t sure if that is a good idea, selling the Civic’s image to the highest bidder. If City Hall can get a few million out of the deal, it might be worth considering, but former Mayor Mike Feinstein has a point, “naming rights is about commodifying the commons,” and that is not what Santa Monica is about. Basically we’re saying it is going to take a lot of dough for us to sell out.
And since the Civic is going to reposition itself as a quality entertainment venue, City Hall better move ahead with plans to add more parking spaces Downtown and within the Civic Center. Currently there is not enough to meet demand on weekends and during the week, employees, including minimum wage workers, are having a hard time with the increased rates and are unable to purchase reduced monthly passes because they are sold out. (We like city staff’s idea to offer monthly parkers a discount and free bus pass to entice them to move from Downtown structures to the Civic Center. We think the idea should be extended past 2014 though for those who show a tendency to take public transit over driving.)
And when Expo Light Rail arrives, residents will want to be able to purchase parking in the Civic Center so they can leave their cars there and hop on the light rail for a trip to USC or the Staples Center.
That said, this call by Santa Monica Pier merchants for parking underneath the proposed Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square is unwarranted and unrealistic. It would cost millions more (around $38.5 according to city staff) and force City Hall to go back to the drawing board, causing a delay City Hall can ill afford given the redevelopment battle in Sacramento, and all because the pier lobby thinks people will not want to visit the historic landmark because they will have to walk a few more minutes to get there.
We say people visit the pier for the view and that’s about it. Until merchants and City Hall, which owns the pier and spaces for lease, step their game up and get some quality restaurants and nightlife, the pier will continue to be a place people visit strictly for the view or to ride the solar-powered Ferris wheel and historic carousel, or even to fish. People will walk five, even 10 minutes to a destination if there is something enticing waiting for them. As it stands, we cannot build more parking right next to the pier or on top of it unless the community can stomach a monstrous parking structure replacing the 1550 surface lot just north of the pier. That isn’t going to happen so the folks on the pier are going to have to live with the fact that parking is scarce Downtown. City Hall cannot afford to build parking underneath the two proposed Civic Center parks and the best option is for a structure underneath the Civic Center lot. It’s only a few hundred feet from Ocean Avenue. If people can’t walk that far to the pier, then we’re all doomed to live a life burdened by obesity.
Then again, if redevelopment money is stripped, this dream for a revitalized Civic Center will most likely turn into a nightmare and we might just want to hop in our cars and get the heck out of the Golden State.