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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Photography School Eyes Ventura-Area Site

September 22, 2000|MATT SURMAN and DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A prestigious photography school may move its filmmaking department to Ventura's Avenue area, a decision that would be a boon to the scrappy neighborhood but would leave a rival site in Oxnard out in the cold.

Santa Barbara-based Brooks Institute of Photography could decide to take up residence at the former Santa Ventura Studios on unincorporated land at the north end of the Avenue. It's a move that could bring 100 students to a neighborhood that has languished since the oil industry began to shut down in the 1980s.

The school's president declined to confirm the move, but said the property would be well-suited for the school's purposes.

"It's so unique and so suited for a film school that it has caught our interest," John Calman said. "Certainly, there's the fact that it was already a film site with a working sound stage."

In addition, he said, Santa Ventura Studios was once an elementary school, which would also make the transition easier.

Calman said Brooks is also considering a site at Ormond Beach for the satellite campus, but the developer of that property said he believes that his chances of getting the college are slim.

"We just heard that it looks like they're going to Ventura, so it hurts," said David O. White, partner in a development team that hopes to build a university, dormitory and 1,500 homes north of Ormond Beach.

The Ventura studio property is in escrow, and Brooks already leases some property in Santa Barbara from the new owner, Rossi Scanlon Trust, Calman said.

Calman said the school had not yet finished its business analysis and only recently began consideration of the Ventura location. It could be three to six months before an official decision, he added.

White said that he talked with Calman about the situation Thursday, and that Calman tried to assure him that his site was still in the running.

A big problem, however, is that Brooks needs more space right away, and the Ormond Beach university would not be ready for years, White said.

"They are going to have more students than their current facilities can accommodate," White said. "So they are looking for a solution immediately, and ours was three or four years down the line."

If Brooks does move to Ventura, White said, he doubts that it would move again in the four years it would take to develop the Ormond Beach site.

"And the city of Ventura would do everything to keep them because they're such a great addition to Ventura County," he said.

White said his development team is still discussing construction of a satellite campus at Ormond Beach with three universities--two private and one public.

Ventura officials look at Brooks as a good fit for the Avenue area because of the newfound focus on redevelopment of the largely working-class and poor neighborhood.

The neighborhood's reputation as a local arts mecca would make the move appropriate, said Donna Granata, a photographer and Brooks graduate who is active in the arts community.

"It would be fabulous," she said. "Brooks students make for good neighbors."

Rob Rossi, one of the new owners of the property, said his company is motivated to help revive the area.

The studio is "obviously a world-class facility, a real plum," he said. "It's an integral part of the reuse philosophy. . . . This would be indicative of a changing Ventura."

Brooks is owned by Career Education Corp., a publicly traded company based near Chicago that owns a number of training colleges nationwide. Brooks, which charges about $15,000 in yearly tuition, draws about half its 600 students from Southern California.

Calman said that if the satellite were to move from its Santa Barbara location to Ventura, its students would probably relocate over time.

No dormitories would be planned for the neighborhood, he said.

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