Officials on Saturday unveiled plans to transform an empty San Clemente hilltop into a $30-million cultural landmark that would serve as the new home for the Festival of Arts and also include a glass-paneled amphitheater, museum, arts institute and seasonal gardens.
The sprawling complex would be built on 41 acres near the Talega development and serve as one of Orange County's top art institutions, according to backers. Plans show a series of red-tiled buildings with Spanish-Colonial arches, linked by walking paths, gardens, open space and exhibit space for artists.
The Festival of Arts board of directors along with the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce displayed the proposal at a private party Saturday, admitting that they must still raise the money to build the facility.
"Finally we've given birth," said festival President Sherri M. Butterfield, who is also mayor of Mission Viejo. "It looks amazing."
The unveiling comes six days before the deadline for sending ballots to the approximately 2,700 voting members of the Festival of Arts. They will decide whether to recall Butterfield and four other board members who support the move. At issue is the board's decision to move the Festival of Arts to San Clemente from its 68-year-old home in Laguna Beach.
Backers of the move say it will allow the Festival of Arts to expand from an annual summer-arts show to a year-round venue complete with an exhibit hall, art school and upscale restaurant.
Critics reject the plan, arguing the event should remain in Laguna Beach because of its long tradition.
"It might be a lovely vision, but the festival belongs in Laguna Beach, not San Clemente," stained-glass artist Sherry Salito-Forsen said while looking at the drawings.
Butterfield and other project backers said they rolled out their plans now so that members of the festival would have a clear choice before they cast their recall ballots.
"Certainly if there's a recall, most of this can't happen," she said. "We had this [unveiling] to say to people, 'Here's your choice.' "
She and others were optimistic that the $30 million could be raised through donations and corporate sponsorship and that the project could be completed by 2003.
The drawings, which Butterfield said cost the festival about $75,000, were developed by architect John Sergio Fisher of the Tarzana-based Fisher Merriman Sehgal Yanez Inc. and landscape designer Kenneth K. Kammeyer of Corona. Fisher said he has helped render drawings for more than 100 cultural arts facilities across the world.
The plans include:
* A 3,000-seat amphitheater with glass panels that can be adjusted to prevent wind or rain from entering.
* An upscale restaurant with views of the Pacific Ocean.
* A 500-seat indoor theater designed to accommodate lectures, recitals, seminars and chamber music.
* A large outdoor exhibit area for up to 160 artists, as well as "demonstration areas" where visitors could watch artists create their works.
* A parking lot with 2,000 spaces and a gift shop.
* A school to host art seminars, lectures, classes and demonstrations.
San Clemente Mayor Susan Ritschel said she believes the Festival of Arts center would be a big boon to the city.
"Certainly, we hope the festival will move," she said. "Today will help toward that end. But if anything, it has focused our city on the potential for the site."
City officials believe the center would be a tourist mecca, generating $21 million annually in economic activity, ranging from hotel bookings to retail sales, according to David Lund, San Clemente public works director.
The festival board last month signed a tentative lease arrangement with San Clemente that calls for only $1 of rent for each of the first two years. Eventually, the rent would rise to $100,000 a year.
Results of the recall election will be announced Oct. 17, Butterfield said.
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New Hilltop Perch?
Plans unveiled Saturday would create a new home for the Festival of Arts in San Clemente, complete with glass-paneled amphitheater, museum, arts institute and seasonal gardens.
Source: Festival of Arts