Amid fears that the city cannot afford $11 million for a cultural arts center and community theater, the City Council has directed the Planning Commission to reduce the cost.
The long-awaited arts center at 15th and Monroe streets was originally budgeted at $7 million, but the price tag escalated in recent months as architects have tried to accommodate requests by city officials.
Current plans call for a 31,000-square-foot center with a 414-seat theater and banquet rooms for as many as 700 people.
"We need to cut it down to $7.3 million," said Councilman Tony Lam, who joined a 3-1 vote to refer the matter to the Planning Commission. The commission, he said, "will work with the architect and the cultural arts council to get a clear-cut view of what we need to do."
Lam said that since the theater space is a priority, the center's lobby might be reduced.
"We don't want to cut down the [theater] seating," Lam said. "But the lobby area looks very elaborate and costly, so maybe they can cut that down to save money."
Councilwoman Margaret Shillington voted against the proposal because, she said, the council should be making the decision.
"We're playing games with this," she said. "We didn't want to make the tough decisions so we're letting the Planning Commission make them."
Shillington said the city cannot afford the $11-million price and has requested a series of town hall meetings to gauge public opinion.
"I think we should get public input and see if the people really want this center," Shillington said. "It'll be taxpayers' money."
Talks on the project have been going on for 18 years.