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Final recommendations have been released for the future of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and City Council will debate the issue at its Feb. 9 meeting.

A draft of the report was released last year and the final version adheres closely to those recommendations. The Civic Working Group recommends an entertainment/arts complex with a private operator as the best option for rehabilitating the building and meeting the community’s desire for a professional performing arts venue.

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.

Two alternate ideas are included in the report although both required an annual subsidy of between $2.2 million and $3.4 million per year.

“Given the Civic’s historic character and role, and the lower estimated capital and operating costs to the City, the CWG recommends pursuing the Civic 1 option. This would allow the landmarked Civic to be sensitively rehabilitated and reopened as a professionally managed performing arts venue that retains its form and use while enabling it to function at today’s state-of-the-art efficiency,” said the report.

The report shies away from making additional specific recommendations. Instead it presents options and provides a philosophical framework for decision-making. The report does provide information on the preferences expressed during the workshops.

The CWG recommends other arts and cultural features on the site. The report says those uses should create activity day and night and according to the report, of 1,698 total responses in the trade-off tool, the most popular uses were the flexible event space (323), small music venue (238), and educational and maker facility (221). Less popular were the artists’ incubator space (68), fine art museum (102), and experiential museum (102).

The use of private land is considered as a means of generating revenue and contributing to the overall use of the site. The most popular private land uses were small café or restaurant uses (104) storefront restaurants (88), retail options (73), and a boutique hotel (73). Housing, office, and hotel uses in general garnered the least support.

The report provides information on two athletic field options, one for young children and the second a full-size soccer field. The report acknowledges strong community support for the field but recommends against an athletic field on the site, arguing that open space should contribute to the cultural focus of the site. While a full-size field is not supported by the CWG, the report does recommend council study the possibility of a field at the Civic.

“To establish a vibrant, mixed-use cultural district, any open space on the Civic Auditorium campus would have to have a significant amount of year-round programming that provides a venue for local talent, contributes to the cultural district’s energy, and draws visitors from around the community and Los Angeles,” said the report. “The CWG recommends that the Civic site include open space that encourages cultural, recreational, and athletic uses consistent with a vibrant cultural campus. However, the CWG, understanding the urgency of the need just as City Council did in 2005, also recommends investigating plans that would allow for a full-size, multi-use playing field on the site, given the strong community preferences expressed during the planning process.”

There have been plans to redevelop the Civic site for more than 20 years. The most recent plan was created in 2005 but funding for most of its recommendations evaporated when voters disbanded redevelopment agencies. At the same time, decreasing demand for the building, deferred maintenance and increasing costs forced the city to shutter the building and the CWG was formed to consider a new future for the site.

While the recommendations do consider the entire civic facility, staff is recommending council limit their initial discussion to saving the actual Civic building and postpones discussion of other elements.

“This approach would allow the City to begin implementation of the vision articulated by the CWG relatively quickly with a modest investment of staff and other resources. It would defer decisions about the broader site including the addition of a sports field to a time when other planning processes have been completed and additional information is available, for example the campus development plan for improvements to the Santa Monica High School campus which is underway, the Downtown Community Specific Plan, and expansion of the field space at the Santa Monica Airport,” said the report.

Karen Ginsberg, Community and Cultural Services Director, said a limited scope might unearth a fiscal backer that could foot the bill for the project.

“I can’t predict at this time how entertainment companies or philanthropists might respond, and that’s what we need to see,” she said.

Nina Fresco, chair of the CWG, said she supported the idea of focusing on the building.

“It could revitalize the Civic and relieve financial pressure on the rest of the site for funding that,” she said.

editor@www.smdp.com