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Council Votes for Live Shows at the Civic Auditorium  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

March 10, 2011 -- The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to bring live music back to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, although at least one council member wasn't sure how the city is going to pay for the aging venue's rehab.

Support for a contract between the city and the Nederlander Producing Company of America – agents for acts like Paul Simon and Escape the Fate, and shows like the Lion King and Wicked – was enthusiastic.

“It would be thrilling for me if when I left these chambers, I could walk (a few) feet to the west and catch the end of one of those shows,” said Michael Robert Myers, vice chair of the Arts Commission. “The presence of a performing arts center would reinforce in people's minds the concept of Santa Monica as a major performing arts destination.”

And council members and the public shared their remembrances of the Civic Auditorium as the site of special musical moments of their youth – concerts like Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez.

“It is sad to see what has happened to the Santa Monica Civic in the last 30 years,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “It's beyond time to turn this around.”

But financing proved to be a more troublesome issue.

Underlying the council's discussion was the possibility that city redevelopment agency funds – funds the city has earmarked to bring the auditorium up to code and pay for improvements that the Nederlander organization expects if it's to enter into a contract with the city – won't be available.

If the state passes Governor Jerry Brown's budget – a distinct possibility according to City Manager Rod Gould – the city may have to come up with some other way to pay for the Civic renovation.

“The latest is the conference committee at the state legislature has reached agreement on a bill that would get to the Assembly and State Senate some time next week,” Gould told the council.

“And the likelihood is that it will pass in both houses and be signed by the governor. It will include elimination of redevelopment agencies statewide,” said Gould.

Calling the possible action a “state raid,” Gould said that the city might need to perform “triage decision making” that could include looking at private financing for projects like the Civic Auditorium.

While calling himself “a fan of the Civic,” not to mention a friend of the Nederlander family, Council member Bobby Shriver said that entering into a contract that would tie up $45 million – the amount needed for the seismic retrofit and other improvements – made him “nervous.”

“When we earmarked this money... a couple of years ago, no one envisioned the possibility that the redevelopment agency would effectively go away,” Shriver said. “$45 million is an enormous number for our city.”

He asked that the council direct staff to return with an analysis of possible private financing options – including naming rights for the auditorium.

The mere mention of naming rights earlier in the discussion had prompted former Mayor Michael Feinstein to hightail it over to council chambers in time to voice his objections.

“I just freaked out when I heard about the possibility of naming rights,” Feinstein told the council.

“Naming rights are about commodifying the commons and that's against our whole sustainable city approach. Please don't do it. It's not who we're about,” Feinstein said.

But Shriver didn't think it was such a bad idea.

“Staples is a great place,” Shriver said in reference to the Los Angeles sports center named after a chain of office supply stores. “It doesn't seem to have destroyed the neighborhood. That facility and the related development has done some pretty great things for downtown.”

Later Shriver quipped, “There would be a cost for it. Perhaps we would have to name it the Feinstein Arena.”


"The presence of a performing arts center would reinforce in people's minds the concept of Santa Monica as a major performing arts destination."
      Michael Robert Myers

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