By Jason Islas
April 16, 2013 -- A group of civic leaders, including several one-time Council hopefuls, a former mayor and a Landmarks commissioner, have banded together to help save Santa Monica's historic Civic Auditorium.
The 14-person group is advocating to return the 55-year-old Civic Auditorium, a venue that once hosted the Oscars and concerts by big names like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, to its former glory.
“We're trying to gather people together to create an awareness that there are a lot of decisions coming up about this,” said Landmarks Commissioner Nina Fresco.
The Save the Civic Committee has grown to 14 people over the past few weeks, including former mayor Judy Abdo and Carol Lemlein, the president of the Santa Monica Conservancy.
Former Council candidates Frank Gruber, Steve Duron and John C. Smith have also joined the Committee.
Lori Nafshun, a former Parks and Recreation commissioner and Pier Board member, is on the Committee, along with her husband Mike Bone, a retired record producer and promoter.
Also on the committee is Sepp Donahower, whom Fresco called, “the spark.” Donahower is a promoter who produced some of the big shows at the Civic, including a New Year's performance of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1978.
The group formed as the Civic faces an uncertain future.
The City will be closing down the Auditorium at the end of June due to budget constraints. In the meantime, however, officials will get the ball rolling on the future of the Auditorium.
In early May, the City will hold a charette with the Urban Land Institute in order to brainstorm solutions for the Civic Auditorium's architectural problems, said Cultural Affairs Manager Jessica Cusick.
Later in May, said Cusick, the City will hold a public meeting to discuss possibilities for the venue.
"We've been very much looking to avail ourselves of all the range of expertise available in Santa Monica," she said.
The City Council voted in October last year to close the Auditorium to avoid an annual loss of $2 million to keep the Auditorium open after plans for a $52 million renovation were scuttled when the City lost millions of dollars in redevelopment agency (RDA) money last February.
Gruber testified at the October meeting.
“I think some day we're going to thank Jerry Brown for getting us to save the Civic in a sustainable manner,” he said at the meeting, referring to Brown's decision to end redevelopment. “We need to find an outside partner and bring in someone to take it over.”
Though at the same meeting, Council member Gleam Davis noted that the last time the City put out a request for proposal in 2008, the City only got one response.
"Things have changed since," said Cusick, noting that 2008 was the height of the economic downturn.
Save the Civic shares Cusick's optimism and believes that flexibility in planning will yield greater results than five years ago.
Fresco said that the organization's main goal is to make sure that whatever plan the City comes up for the Civic, that they take “a path of openness.”
“We want to make sure that every step the City takes keeps the door open for all feasible ideas,” she said.
Fresco referred to the the original $52 million renovation plan as “lavish.”
“We don't need to make that kind of investment in this property to make it work," she said.
“We don't want people to read to the Civic Center plan and think they are going to have to build the soccer field too,” Fresco said, referring to the general plan for the area around the Civic Auditorium.
“We're not going to say 'no' to anything,” she said.