Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

CIVIC CENTER — The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is closed but not forgotten.

Over the past few weeks, sleek new BMWs have been on display underneath the building’s canopy and in a pavilion built on the front lawn.

It’s a part of the car company’s media launch for a new hybrid vehicle and it brought City Hall $300,000 for five weeks of use.

Meanwhile, the Civic Working Group, a nine-member committee selected by City Council, has met four times to discuss the long-term plans for the future of the site.

The auditorium was shuttered in July, a result of City Hall losing its redevelopment agency, which was supposed to cover $51 million worth of much-needed seismic retrofitting and modernization. The Civic has hosted the Oscars, Bob Dylan, and Prince since it opened in 1958.

Even closed, the auditorium costs City Hall an estimated $185,000 a year to insure and maintain. Events like the BMW media launch, an AltCar event in September, and a Buy Local event in October cover costs and bring in revenue for the aging building. Last year City Hall brought in cash by allowing scenes from the CBS drama “NCIS” to be shot inside the Civic.

But these events won’t be enough to cover the renovation costs. Evaluating the potential financing options will be left, in part, to the Civic superteam.

“I think each of the nine members have slightly different visions of the area and what it concerns,” said Civic Working Group member Phil Brock.

Brock would like to see much of the space remain undeveloped.

“I think there was a little bit of a push-pull between advocates of potentially putting a hotel and a profit center of some sort in the Civic parking lot, versus, as the chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission, part of the Civic Center mater-plan said that the area would become a soccer field or other use playing fields,” he said.

Tongva Park does not have playing fields because they were intended for the Civic Center, Brock said.

Nina Fresco, who co-chairs the group, said they’ve been doing “a ton of research.”

Council appointed them, she said, primarily for the visioning process.

“When you look at visioning, that comes before plans and strategies, so to say what I think should happen on the site, I just don’t know yet,” Fresco said. “We’re kind of trying to figure that out.”

The group is also tasked with creating “community consensus,” she said, which they will attempt during three community meetings — one in September, January, and March.

Last month they hired consultant Paul Silvern, who also worked as a consultant for the planning department during the Bergamot Transit Village planning process.

Silvern will fill in the financial gaps so that group members “can understand what (their) dreams are and how they effect the balance sheet,” Fresco said.

“Then we’ll know what we can reasonably expect from people who come forward and try to propose projects that pencil out for them that match our dreams as closely as possible,” she said.

Brock said they will likely go before council with their plans sometime in the middle of next year.

“I’m a little bit concerned that, while we need to figure out the way to monetize the facility, it is still thought of as a great cultural arts facility for the residents of Santa Monica,” he said. “I know that we’re talking about hotels virtually everywhere in the city. I think residents are going to be very upset if we build another six to 10-story hotel proposal.”

The list of the group’s ideas for the site are posted on City Hall’s website. They include a museum, a concert venue, production labs, hotels, movie theaters, and open space.

The group meets every fourth Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in — of course — the East Wing of the auditorium.

 

dave@www.smdp.com

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