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Westminster OKs Cultural Center Building Plans

Financing for the $15-million, 30,000-square-foot venue is uncertain. Groundbreaking is planned next year.

August 30, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

There was a time when members of the Nicholson Pipes and Drums ensemble would practice at Westminster's old 17th Street School auditorium, a drafty relic that served as a gathering spot until the school was demolished in 1997.

Since then, the group has warmed up for parades and performances by marching around a local senior citizen center's dining hall or parking lot.

That's about to change.

The City Council this week approved plans for a $15-million cultural center that will anchor the city's civic district and be a venue for performing artists. The 30,000-square-foot center is scheduled to be completed in 2005. Groundbreaking will be next year.

A six-member committee was appointed this summer to help find money to build the center, a project that has languished for more than a decade. Only $6 million has been raised.

"There's no doubt that it's moving ahead," said committee member Sondra Evans. "The plans are fabulous. It does everything the community needs it to do."

City leaders hope the cultural center will become a source a civic pride, a town gathering spot and a source of income. The facility will be constructed near Westminster and Beach boulevards in the town's civic center.

A courthouse, the City Hall and the recently installed Vietnam War memorial also are nearby.

The cultural center will provide a home for the performing arts and lectures. It could also be used by schools and as an assembly room for town hall meetings. The plans call for it to seat as many as 500.

"We really have no large place for any of the schools to hold functions, so this would help them during large events," said Brad Fowler, the city's public works director.

But critics worry that the center could prove a financial burden to a city still struggling to remodel its cramped, termite-ridden Police Department. The city also plans to build a parking garage in the civic center complex.

Councilman Kermit Marsh said the city will consider borrowing money for the construction projects if other sources don't pan out.

To date, money has come from private donations and government grants.

Malcolm Willis, co-director of Nicholson Pipes and Drums, said he is optimistic that his group and others will have a better place to practice and perform.

"It's hard to find places for practice. It just gets to the point where you deal with what you're given," Willis said.

"There's been an image of Westminster as a beer-and-pretzel community and we don't need a place like [the civic center]. But that's not true. It's been overdue."

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