After months of discussion about the future of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, appointed community members and other interested citizens will soon grapple with the issue in a simulated yet much more concrete way.

The Civic Working Group and city officials have organized a community workshop Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 during which participants will consider spatial and financial limitations and use a specially designed software program to tinker with possibilities for the historic structure and its surroundings.

The upcoming workshop was the focus of the Civic panel’s roughly 90-minute meeting Monday night in the facility’s East Wing, where HR&A Advisors partner Paul Silvern detailed to group members the schedule of the two-day seminar as well as the nature of the interactive software and the numerical assumptions it makes.

Although data collected through the software will not lead directly to action, it will provide Civic group members with helpful feedback as they continue formulating advice for City Council on what to do with the iconic cultural landmark whose redevelopment funds were stripped about a year and a half ago.

The recent meeting gave team members a detailed look at how financing might play out for a variety of projects at the Civic site, including a performing arts center, a cultural campus, an event complex, a small music venue, a museum, an artists’ space, an educational/media facility and a rehearsal/office hub. The grounds could possibly feature a combination of these.

Silvern noted that some of the monetary estimates depend in part on the operating entity and that financing would be altered significantly if the space were managed by a private entertainment company. In that case, the city would likely cover a major portion of construction costs but would probably not be responsible for operating costs.

Silvern added that the software has limits on how much money can be bundled through private philanthropy, a topic that sparked debate among panel members over realistic fundraising goals.

Officials reiterated that budgeting requires assumptions and that the software is meant to help citizens understand the complexity of the issues at hand.

“This is good,” group member Frank Gruber said. “It tells people that they have to think about the consequences.”

Gruber also suggested looking into what it would take for the auditorium to earn federal landmark status, a designation that could provide tax credits for potential investors.

Fellow panelist Iao Katagiri said community activists might not agree with the software’s estimates but added that they should fiddle with the parameters to see if any new ideas arise.

On the first day of the workshop, attendees will learn about the software and take part in facilitated discussions about building options, costs, parking needs and other factors. On the second day, participants will cluster in small groups and use digital computer tablets to work through the software and delve into site specifics while keeping a balanced budget. Each day of the workshop will include time for public input.

Interested citizens who are unable to attend the workshop can navigate through the interactive budgeting exercise and share ideas online Feb. 2-14 at

The group also discussed making the software available at Santa Monica Public Library branches.

The upcoming event is the second in a series of three workshops on Civic renovation. The first, which was held in September, allowed participants to tour the site and share ideas. The final seminar is scheduled for March 21.

Group member Phil Brock wondered aloud Monday what it would cost to keep Civic lights on at night even though the building is not in regular use. He argued that it would make the area safer and could generate public interest in future conversations about the auditorium’s future.

“We should remind people: ‘Drive by, walk by, look at it,'” he said. “Let’s see if it’s something they treasure or not. Is it valuable to the city psyche?”

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