Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (File photo)

The Civic Working Group (CWG) has made a recommendation about the future of the landmarked, but derelict Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

In a draft report, the CWG said an entertainment/arts complex with a private operator is the best option for rehabilitating the building and meeting the community’s desire for a professional performing arts venue.

“An Entertainment/Arts Complex (Civic 1) would be managed by a sophisticated privateoperator, drawing regional audiences, while providing community programming,” said the report.

The recommendation said the facility as proposed would have capacity for about 2,600 attendees and would draw high-end commercial entertainment. The preferred option had the lowest capital cost ($93 million) and was the only option without a required annual operating subsidy.

The CWG had developed three options for the Civic. The two rejected plans would have required a non-profit or City management, both of which required an annual subsidy of between $2.2 to $3.4 million per year.

The CWG’s plan is necessary to establish a future for the once proud facility that has been closed since 2013. Decreasing demand for the building, deferred maintenance and increasing costs were all factors in the Civic’s decline and despite several plans for the site, little progress has been made in revitalizing the building.

Council had tasked the CWG with several objectives including drafting a vision for the future cultural and community use of the Civic as the hub of a cultural campus, exploration of an appropriate mix of compatible adjacent uses, from open space to additional facilities, as identified in the Urban Land Institute report, evaluating potential financing options and programming and operating models for the Civic, convening a community process to gather input and to build consensus regarding the future of the Civic and providing Council with recommendations regarding the vision, feasible renovation options, and the preferred longterm operating model for the Civic.

Internally, the group chose to break its tasks into several additional topics including an analysis of how to preserve and rehabilitate the landmarked Civic Auditorium, create a vibrant cultural and community hub around the Civic Auditorium, evaluate private land uses that support and enhance the cultural campus, create a flow between the Civic Auditorium site and the surrounding community, include open space on the site and generate innovative and financially sustainable proposals for the Civic and its site.

In most cases, the group specifically chose to recommend a menu of possible options for each goal. CWG members said doing so would provide potential operators with enough flexibility to develop a workable proposal.

“If we defined a range of approaches to various aspects then we would allow for the kind of flexibility that lets different kinds of proposers with different strengths in different spaces mold it to what they’re good at,” said CWG chair Nina Fresco.

Fresco, who is also on the Planning Commission, said a rigid set of requirements would have created the same kind of situation that has caused the property to languish.

“There have been numerous specific plan drafts and public processes about (the Civic), and they always came up with a plan and then it sat on paper,” she said. “What we were trying to do was break that cycle.”

While the CWG did make a recommendation as to the operational structure, they left almost every other decision up for debate.

In regards to financing, the CWG recommends any option should pay for rehabilitation, improvements and be independent of the city’s general fund.

Discussion of open space on site is potentially the most controversial point in the plan. Some residents have advocated for athletic fields ranging from a single field to a full-scale athletic complex. The CWG did not endorse any of the possible options but again recommended a range of uses. “The CWG recommends that the Civic site include open space that encourages cultural, recreational, and athletic uses consistent with a vibrant cultural campus,” said the report.

Their recommendation does call for investigating the possibility of a multi-use playing field but does not require a field nor does it place priority on the field over other elements.

Fresco said the community engagement around the field issue was important to the CWG, but their primary duty was to find a way to rehabilitate the Civic and that any recommendation about other uses on the property had to be subservient the primary goal.

“Our goal is to save the Civic and create Option One there and all the other things need to serve that in function, either programming or financially, but hopefully a little bit of both,” she said.

The group said allowed private uses should be compatible with the surrounding community and should contribute to the spirit of the Civic site. They said other arts and cultural features such as a flexible performing arts space could meet the need.

“Finally, the CWG recommends integrating uses that create activity during daytime and evening, such as cafes, restaurants, and open space,” said the report.

The report outlines the history of the Civic site, the multiple past plans for rehabilitation and provides detail on the public outreach/participation efforts undertaken so far. The report will be given to council soon.

In their report the CWG is asking council for several actions such as a schedule, a Request for Proposals that will maximizes the likelihood of project success, evaluation of long-term management options, maximization of revenue in advance of development, information on potential public and/or private financing options and addressing the public concern for fields.

The CWG report is informational only and carries no regulatory or legislative weight. The current draft is available online and a final version will be available for public review once comments from the September meeting are incorporated. Council will have the final authority over any future plans or proposals for the site and it will be up to council to determine what is required for site proposals.

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