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Cerritos OKs $17.5-Million, All-Purpose Commuity Hall

September 25, 1986|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

CERRITOS — Another piece of the Towne Center puzzle apparent ly has fallen into place.

After three years of debate, the City Council has given the go-ahead to a $17.5-million, 1,850-seat facility that would be used for stage plays, graduations, concerts, trade shows and community group meetings.

The council voted 4 to 1, with Ann B. Joynt dissenting, to build what consultants call a "festivity hall" on 8.8 acres of the Towne Center parcel across from City Hall on Bloomfield Avenue at 183rd Street.

Joynt called the facility a "foolish expenditure" because she believes it is oversized for Cerritos.

But city officials said the festivity hall represents a compromise of sorts between city planners, who first proposed a major performing arts complex catering to large-scale Broadway productions, and the council, that wanted a smaller community center for civic group gatherings.

To Be Ready by 1990

The council is expected to select an architect for the project by early December, said Michele Ogle, a city spokeswoman. The design phase will take about a year, she said, with ground breaking in mid-1988. Completion is expected in late 1990.

The city has $14.7 million in redevelopment funds set aside for the project, with the balance to come from sales tax revenues generated by the Los Cerritos Mall and Auto Square, a string of car dealerships along Studebaker Road.

In the first year of operation, the festivity hall would probably lose about $560,000, according to a city report evaluating the project. Most theaters, the report continued, operate at a loss for at least a year.

With approval of the project, only the shopping mall portion of the ambitious 125-acre Towne Center development remains unsettled.

Negotiations between the city and General Growth of California, the developer hired 18 months ago to package the mall, are apparently stalled over the number and type of tenants for the retail center. The council wants an upscale center, but so far General Growth has been unable to come up with the right mix of department stores to anchor the mall, according to several council members.

Despite recent talk of switching developers, the council emerged from an hourlong closed-door session last week to announce it will continue for now working with General Growth.

Office, Hotel Phase

The third leg of the Towne Center project--a series of high-rise office buildings, a 400-room luxury hotel and several restaurants--is well into the design phase. The city and Transpacific Development Co. of Torrance have signed a long-term development agreement and the firm is now working on specific plans for the project.

When the entire Towne Center development is completed sometime in the mid-1990s, city officials predict it may be worth $225 million.

The city chose to handle the theater complex itself to retain control over its shape and eventual use.

The festivity hall concept, city officials say, is a response to long-running complaints about the lack of a central city facility for everything from breakfast meetings to recitals to dinner dances.

Several community group leaders told the council that they have been forced to go outside the city, in some cases as far as Seal Beach and Garden Grove, to reserve rooms for meetings and special events.

"It seems a real shame we have to leave Cerritos to have a dinner," said George Tett, president of Cerritos Gadabouts, a senior citizens group that recently held its seventh anniversary dinner at a hall in Bellflower.

"I just hope you don't forget about us in all this talk about a theater and big stage shows," he said. "We need a community center, someplace for seniors to go."

Flexible Seating

Unlike a fixed-seat theater, the festivity hall's chief advantage is its flexible seating arrangement, according to David T. Staples of Theatre Projects, a London-based consultant hired by Cerritos. The international firm has been paid $57,000 since 1983 to advise the city on its theater project.

Seating in the 66,000-square-foot facility will range from 900 for a local dance or theater production to 1,850 for a concert, large stage show, graduation exercises or convention. It will have an orchestra pit as well as several Victorian-style viewing boxes for patrons along the side walls. The building's roof will be 80 to 90 feet high. There will also be a large rehearsal area, storage for props and costumes, and a kitchen.

Blocks of seats will be on tracks to be rearranged or removed for various configurations. The 800-seat upper balcony, for example, could be closed off by mechanically lowering the ceiling. The walls of the main hall also could be moved in to create a more intimate space. Banquets of up to 500 could be accommodated by removing all the floor seating.

"We know we have a number of groups that have had to (go) outside the city to hold functions," said Gaylord F. Knapp, the city manager. "This facility is intended . . . to satisfy that."

Smaller Adjoining Rooms

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