CERRITOS — The City Council has taken another wobbly step toward construction of a novel, $25-million community arts center that will feature movable walls and floors, glass towers, gardens and an 1,800-seat performance hall.
The council has developed something of a love-hate relationship with the arts building, a centerpiece for what will be the city's last major development, a retail-office complex called Towne Center that is to rise on a sprawling tract of empty land across from the Civic Center.
Distinctively designed and more expensive by the month, the arts center is seen by some as a marvelously innovative complex that will meet the city's long-standing need for a place to hold community and artistic events. Others view it as a white elephant, too palatial and too ambitious to provide a comfortable home for community events.
"It's going to be sitting there empty," predicted Councilwoman Ann Joynt, who cast the lone negative vote last week when the council approved the final complex design, 4 to 1. A year ago she was also the only one to vote against the project, when it first came up for approval.
Diana Needham, the center's chief champion on the council, was equally emphatic that the center will give Cerritos residents what they want and need. "I want to go forward. The community is waiting for the many events we can hold in this facility."
Under discussion since 1982, the community arts center will be paid for with city redevelopment and sales tax money. Four years ago, a consultant's study concluded there was sufficient regional demand to sustain a hall for "second tier" musical and drama productions that were not big enough to be booked into the major Los Angeles halls or the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Working with a British theater consultant, David Staples of Theatre Projects Consultants Inc., the Los Angeles architectural firm of Barton Myers Associates settled on a design intended to give the building the flexibility to serve as both a performance hall and a community center. The movable walls and floors of the main hall allow seating to range from a minimum of 900 to a maximum of 1,800. Two community rooms will accommodate 100 and 500 people, respectively.
The 125,000-square-foot complex will consist of a series of pavilions built of granite, patterned brick and glass, with brightly colored ceramic tile roofs. The architects, Myers says, want the building's appearance to convey a festive, village feeling.
The design has drawn praise from the building's critics, as well as its fans.
"I'm very concerned that this building will be beautiful and may not serve the community," said Lee Korf, a former theater instructor at Cerritos College who lives in Whittier. "I plead with you to take a breath and reconsider," he exhorted council members before their vote.
The two community rooms were enlarged at the request of the council, after reviewing several design options in September. But doubts remain that the rooms in the final design will satisfy local demand for a place to hold banquets, meetings, and community arts events. While authorizing the architects to proceed with the overall complex design, the council postponed final approval of the 500-seat community room until design details are finalized.
Councilman Barry Rabbitt expressed concern that the room might not be suitable for amateur theater productions. That prompted complaints from council members Donald Knabe and Joynt, who said they wanted the space to remain a meeting room, and did not want it transformed into a mini-theater.
At one point during the discussion, Mayor Daniel Wong turned to Staples and asked, "Do you know what we all want?"
Cost Keeps Rising
When approved last year, the cost of the center was projected at $17.5 million. In September, when the architects returned to the council with layout proposals, the price tag had increased to $23 million. Expanding the community meeting rooms has since nudged the cost up to about $25 million, Myers said Wednesday night.
The project will be financed with nearly $15 million in city redevelopment money, with the balance coming from sales tax revenue from Cerritos' numerous auto dealerships.