February 23, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Two Potential Buyers Eye Santa Monica’s Civic Auditorium

Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District and Community Corporation of Santa Monica both express interest in redevelopment of long-vacant civic auditorium

Santa Monica’s Civic Auditorium, a long-vacant property located at 1855 Main Street, has garnered interest from two potential buyers, according to real estate negotiation information shared with the City Council on Tuesday. The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) had previously expressed interest in purchasing the property earlier this year, but a new bidder, the Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM), has also entered the negotiation process.

The Civic Auditorium has been unused since 2013, and the City Council has been exploring options for its redevelopment for decades. 

Originally opened in 1958, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was designed by renowned architect Welton Becket, known for his modernist style, and quickly became a hub for entertainment, music, and community events. The auditorium’s sleek and striking mid-century architecture features clean lines, a distinctive scalloped roof, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that provide panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, making it a distinctive landmark in Santa Monica.

Throughout the years, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium has hosted a wide array of events, ranging from concerts and performances by legendary artists to political rallies, conventions, and cultural celebrations. Some of the most iconic moments in the venue’s history include performances by music legends such as Bob Dylan, The Doors, and Frank Sinatra, as well as speeches by prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

Initial plans for an entertainment/arts complex never materialized, and in recent years, a portion of the parking lot was converted into playing fields for local schools. The SMMUSD’s interest in the property is linked to the ongoing rehabilitation of Santa Monica High School, with plans for a new gym over the current tennis courts. However, concerns have been raised about the building’s ability to meet stringent state standards as an educational facility, potential conflicts with its landmarked features, and parking issues due to the recent conversion of part of the parking lot.

Despite the challenges, SMMUSD officials believe that further study is warranted and the Board of Education approved three items in March to conduct a feasibility study of the Civic Auditorium’s potential acquisition for better outcomes for the Samohi Campus Plan and the residents of Santa Monica.

However, a new bidder has emerged in the form of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM), the city’s largest affordable housing developer, with a unique proposal. CCSM aims to preserve the Civic Auditorium as a landmarked building while utilizing the surrounding land for a new affordable housing project. They plan to partner with a commercial developer to handle the rehabilitation and reoccupation of the Civic Auditorium and work with the Committee for Racial Justice to incorporate the area’s history into the project, as the area was once home to a significant Black population that was displaced during freeway construction and the building of the Civic Auditorium.

Both proposals will be heard in closed session by the City Council on Tuesday, as property negotiations are allowed to be conducted in secrecy by state law. Officials will issue a report only if a decision is made.

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