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  • Matthew Hall

City will pursue new commercial partners to reopen the Civic Auditorium

By Matthew Hall, reposted from the Santa Monica Daily Press 10.3.23

The end may be in sight for the long and confusing process over the future of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

In an email sent out Tuesday, community organization Save The Civic said SMMUSD had abandoned its proposal to purchase the property.

“We’re thrilled the School District realized that residents adamantly opposed its expensive plan to acquire the Civic and repurpose it for use primarily as a gym. Publicly owned spaces for music and the arts are rare and important cultural venues and should not be sold off and turned into basketball courts,” said Save the Civic Steering Committee member, Bea Nemlaha.

The organization has been strongly opposed to a school district takeover of the site and has been advocating for City Hall to reject the bid.

“We saw no support from the community and almost none from City Council for the District’s plan. The District’s outreach confirmed that,” Nemlaha added. “Now that its proposal has been withdrawn, the final hurdle has been removed and the City can field offers from other bidders. We’re looking forward to working with entities who have experience developing and operating world-class concert venues and can restore the Civic as a premier destination for music and the arts,” said Nemlaha. “This is an exciting day for Santa Monica.”

In a statement, SMMUSD Superintendent Antonio Shelton said the Distirct hasn’t withdrawn but it has encouraged the City to explore other options.

“While SMMUSD remains interested in purchasing and rehabilitating the Civic Auditorium, the District encourages the City to explore and exhaust other options prior to concluding negotiations between the District and the City,” he said.

Santa Monica Communications and Public Information Manager Lauren G. Howland said the City will be moving to end the current Surplus Land Act process.

“The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has indicated their desire to have the city complete the Surplus Land Act process,” she said in a statement. “The next step is to obtain written confirmation from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that the city has satisfactorily completed the noticing and good faith negotiation process with affordable housing providers who submitted notices of interest, so that the city could begin negotiations with other potential purchasers/developers for commercial development.”

The Civic Auditorium is zoned for recreational use and is designated as a City landmark to preserve its historic features. However, it is currently deemed seismically unsafe and has been closed since 2013, except for a small meeting space in the East Wing that closed in 2020. Parts of the property’s parking lot have already been repurposed as a childcare educational facility and an athletic field.

Past efforts to find a partner to help reopen the building have failed and at present, the City lacks the budget and staff to rehabilitate and reopen the site on its own.

However, in 2022, the City declared the property as “surplus” under the Surplus Land Act (SLA) in response to an inquiry regarding potential reuse of the site. The designation is required before any lease or sale of civic property can occur but State regulators told the Daily Press that any use of a previously vacant building, even by the city itself, required completion of the SLA process if the State deemed the proposed use “nonessential.”

Once property has entered the SLA process, municipalities must engage in good faith negotiations with interested parties but they do not have to come to an agreement. The state gives priority to housing, education and park uses but if the SLA process does not yield a new use, the City could pursue other kinds of projects without state regulation.

Two bidders emerged during the process, SMMUSD and Community Corporation of Santa Monica. Council rejected CCSM’s bid but the District proposal has remained active.

SMMUSD envisioned the site as a multipurpose space, including gymnasium, theater / auditorium, concert venue, exhibit facility, banquet hall, and other Samohi, District and community uses.

A feasibility study concluded the total project was possible but would cost an estimated $226,570,000.

The SMMUSD Board has a closed session item regarding the property scheduled for its Oct. 5 meeting and SMMUSD Community & Public Relations Officer Gail Pinsker said if there is anything more to report or announce, it would happen after that discussion.


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