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3 Arts Groups in Area Planning Separate Centers

Times Staff Writer

As if reading from the same musical score, three arts groups in the West Valley, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley are working independently to develop three separate performing arts centers.

If all succeed, an area of one million people now served only by community concert and theater groups could be swamped with professionally staged concerts, plays and art exhibitions.

The prospect of dueling symphonies has some people worried.

Nonetheless, arts devotees in the three communities are racing ahead with plans to develop their own scaled-down versions of the Los Angeles Music Center.

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“I don’t believe all three will be built,” said Frances Prince, who heads the Thousand Oaks effort. “The area couldn’t handle it.”

Simi City Councilwoman Vicky Howard said, “If they both do theirs and we do ours, it is going to be very interesting, to say the least.”

Prince said she viewed her community’s effort as the most likely to succeed, as did representatives of the other arts groups.

Also in concert with leaders of the other groups, Prince bemoaned the difficulties arts planners face because they do not know which competing centers, if any, will be built.

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Since 1969, development of a regional cultural center has been written into the general plan of Thousand Oaks, an affluent Ventura County community of nearly 100,000 about 20 miles west of Woodland Hills.

Thousand Oaks Plans

Thousand Oaks civic leaders, who take undisguised pride in the community’s architectural award-winning civic center and library buildings, have talked for years of building a performing arts center that would make their city the cultural capital for the half-million residents in a region stretching from Calabasas to Ventura and from Malibu to Santa Paula.

The city Arts Commission two years ago recommended a center with a 2,200-seat concert hall (the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Music Center has 3,000 seats), a 750-seat theater (the Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre seats 2,000), a 200-seat experimental theater and an art gallery.

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A consultant has projected the cost of such a center at between $17 million and $35 million, providing the land is donated by local businesses.

Meanwhile, an effort to develop even larger cultural facilities has been under way for nearly a decade in the West Valley.

The Cultural Foundation, a nonprofit group that has the Los Angeles City Council’s blessing, hopes to raise $72 million starting this fall to build the Warner Center Performing Arts Square in Woodland Hills and Arts Park L.A. in the Sepulveda Basin.

The Woodland Hills facility is proposed for a 20-acre site in city-owned Warner Park. Preliminary plans call for a 1,200-seat concert hall, a 650-seat theater and a small, multipurpose theater.

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Arts Park L.A. would be on 164 acres of federal land in the Sepulveda Basin. It would include a 2,500-seat indoor theater, an outdoor performing area with lawn space for up to 2,000 people, a museum, artists’ studios and a restaurant.

Luke Bandle, the foundation’s general manager, said preliminary market surveys for the Warner Center facility were based on the assumption that the center would draw patrons from Simi Valley, Agoura and Calabasas “and, to a lesser extent, from all the way to Santa Barbara.”

But Bandle predicted that more detailed studies now under way would show that the loss of Ventura County patrons to other centers would probably not have a major impact on the proposed Woodland Hills facility because its audience base is more than 1.5 million.

Architects Hired

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Architects have been hired to design both facilities, Bandle said, and the foundation tentatively is planning to complete both structures in five years.

The land has been leased without cost from the city and federal governments, Bandle said, and all construction and operating costs probably will be donated by businesses and individuals.

Simi Valley, a fast-growing and increasingly affluent Ventura County community west of Chatsworth, is a late entry into the cultural competition.

Officials there recently completed a new city hall and have turned their energies toward placing their city of 90,000 on the cultural map.

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In May, they hired an architect and other consultants to determine how large a performing arts center should be built. A Simi arts official said they expect to have a recommendation within 90 days and hope to begin construction in 18 months.

Fred Madjar, vice president of the Simi Valley Cultural Assn., said that despite Simi’s late start, “We seem to be moving faster than the others, and I expect we will pass them soon, if we have not already done so.”

Madjar said Simi, unlike Thousand Oaks and the West Valley group, intends to build a relatively small facility, possibly limited to a multipurpose theater for plays and concerts and an art gallery.

He called Simi’s goal “more realistic than the proposals I’ve heard coming from other communities.”

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Madjar noted that Simi’s City Council is united behind the effort “and the council feels, as we on the association do, that Simi Valley has come of age and is ready for a cultural facility.”

He pointed out that Simi arts planners are “not saddled down with a 120-member committee which has to be included in every decision,” a reference to the Thousand Oaks cultural center planning committee chaired by Prince.

In an effort to heal wounds opened when the proposed Thousand Oaks center became an issue in November’s City Council election, officials expanded the committee to 120 members to include critics of the center.

City officials admit that the size of the committee has slowed the planning.

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For several years, Thousand Oaks cultural leaders have suggested that their center could thrive even if the Warner Center facility is built.

On the other hand, even if Simi opts for a small arts facility serving only local residents, it would disrupt planning for the Thousand Oaks center, said Thousand Oaks Mayor Lawrence Horner.

The prospect of competing with other cultural centers for patrons “certainly would make me less enthusiastic about our plans for an arts center,” he said. “And I don’t think a strictly local center in Thousand Oaks would draw all that much enthusiasm, either.”

Unlike Simi, which has designated a city-owned three-acre site adjacent to the new City Hall for its cultural facility, Thousand Oaks is still searching for a location for its proposed center.

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A site selection committee two weeks ago listed seven possible locations, although the preferred site continues to be the parking lot at the east end of The Oaks shopping mall.

Prince’s committee is preparing to interview consultants who would draw up final plans for a center. A subcommittee is expected to be named within a week, she said.

The Thousand Oaks effort was set back more than four months last year when several council candidates made opposition to financing the cultural center with redevelopment funds part of their election campaigns.

An advisory measure on the November ballot asked voters whether they approved of building a cultural center if the site were donated, if redevelopment funds were used for construction and if an endowment fund were established to cover any operating deficits.

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The measure won approval of 61% of voters, breathing renewed life into the cultural center effort.

Arts officials acknowledge that Thousand Oaks’ access to redevelopment money gives the city an advantage over the West Valley and Simi Valley groups, both of which plan to solicit money from individuals and businesses to cover construction costs.

By declaring a largely developed section of the city a redevelopment zone two years ago, Thousand Oaks--rather than Ventura County or other taxing agencies--will be able to keep all increases in property tax revenues that result from higher assessments because of development.

The project is expected to yield to the city more than $200 million in extra revenue over 40 years.

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In creating the redevelopment project, the council said an unspecified portion of the extra money would be used to build a cultural facility.

However, the prospect of competition from Simi Valley and Woodland Hills cultural centers could force a reappraisal of plans in Thousand Oaks.

“I don’t think we can all draw regionally,” said Virginia Davis, vice chairman of the Thousand Oaks planning committee. “To be cost-effective, you have to have Class A programs. And to have Class A programs, you have to have a large facility, and I believe that requires that you draw patrons from a wide area.”


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