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FOUNDATIONS FOR THE ARTS : Simi Valley Approves Design for Its 1st Cultural Arts Center : City Council: Members will consider hiring a contractor for the $3.6-million facility by the end of the year.


Simi Valley officials are forging ahead with plans to open the city's first full-fledged cultural arts center and will consider hiring a contractor to build the estimated $3.6-million facility by the end of the year.

The City Council approved the layout of the center this week, deciding to spend close to $200,000 on the detailed architectural and technical drawings needed to turn a former church into a 300-seat theater.

"This thing has been on the books of this city for at least 10 to 12 years that I know of," Councilman Bill Davis said Thursday.

"The city has now grown to a population of over 100,000 people and it's finally happening," Davis said. "Simi Valley is going to have a facility where we can have plays and music and things that we've always had to go outside the city to obtain."

The council action Monday was applauded by the Simi Valley arts community.

"I'm pleased that they're proceeding," said Bill Appleton, interim president of the Simi Valley Cultural Assn.

"I kind of go back with that church, because I did attend Sunday school there and lived on the same block when I was young," Appleton said. "So it has kind of a nostalgic appeal to me as well as the cultural and historical appeal."

The council voted 3 to 2 to proceed with the more-detailed design that contractors will use to draw up construction bids.

Once the drawings are complete, the council will make its final decision on whether to build the theater and a banquet room at an estimated cost of $2.8 million--including architectural work. The city bought the Los Angeles Avenue church and property in 1991 for $821,000.

Under the design approved by the council, the original church pews would be retained as theater seating as would three small balcony areas. The council decided against spending $375,000 to construct a raised porch around the building.

But the plan to convert the former Methodist church is not without its critics on the council.

Councilwoman Barbara Williamson voted against advancing the project Monday because of its expense and the likelihood that the center will require ongoing government subsidies to operate.

"I just don't think now is the time," Williamson said. "If we were flush and everybody had jobs and things were going great, I'd say, 'OK, maybe we need it.' But, to me, right now there are things we need in this community more than a cultural arts center."

Councilwoman Sandi Webb joined Williamson in voting against the project she has consistently called too expensive and a misuse of public funds.

"I don't feel we can really afford it. I think we need a (new) police station first," Webb said. "Philosophically, I really don't think that arts and entertainment and that kind of thing is something government should be doing. Even if we could afford it, I probably would not have supported it."

Ironically, Webb said her 13-year-old daughter is an aspiring actress who might eventually perform in the city facility if it were built.

"It really breaks my heart, when my daughter may be the one to use it," Webb said. "But I'm not going to set aside my principles just because I may have a personal use for it."

Deputy City Manager Bob Heitzman said the City Council should be able to review construction bids by the end of the year and anticipates about nine months of renovation work before the center could open. An earliest opening date would be in October or November, 1994, Heitzman said.

But Mayor Greg Stratton cautioned that whether the project moves forward will depend on the bids the city receives.

"It's not a done deal. It's passed another milestone," Stratton said, who voted in favor of the project along with Davis and Councilwoman Judy Mikels. "I'm hoping we can get some good bids and, if we do, then I think we'll see it moving."

"I'm not sure quite how to read the opposition to it," he said. "I guess I look at it as another part of an overall city function or government function to provide certain recreational and educational facilities. I don't know why this is viewed differently than a park or a library."

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