A major expansion of Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum that could cost an estimated $8.8 million has been recommended by a city study panel as a move to make Bowers one of the region’s top cultural centers.
In a report submitted this week to the City Council, the museum’s Blue Ribbon Planning Committee urged building a 19,000-square-foot annex for galleries and technical support as well as a 350-seat multipurpose hall and 100-seat restaurant.
Also proposed is the establishment of a “museum district” to be anchored by Bowers’ historical and fine-arts facilities and to include several new museums for such other specialties as transportation and agriculture.
Toward that end, the panel’s chairman, Hector R. Godinez, said he has held discussions with the Newport Harbor Art Museum about that museum establishing a fine-arts “satellite” facility in the proposed Santa Ana district.
Confirming the discussions, Kevin Consey, Newport Harbor’s director, said his museum has not yet decided whether to “pursue or reject” the “satellite” proposal. He said he expected no decision by his board until possibly this fall.
Godinez said the panel is asking the city, which owns the 50-year-old Bowers and its site, to finance the entire construction.
At Monday’s meeting, the City Council deferred action on the report to July 21, so city aides can study the proposed costs and determine where additional city money might be raised.
“We want to keep momentum going, putting Bowers into the top ranks in both scope and support,” said Mayor Dan Griset. “But we can’t reach a decision (on financing) until we know all the options, and where these stand among the city’s other budget priorities.”
Until now, expansion plans of the county’s two other major museums have attracted the most attention in cultural circles.
In Laguna Beach, the Laguna Art Museum’s 56-year-old main structure is set to reopen Sept. 23 after a $1.5-million expansion (the museum has operated a “satellite” facility at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa since 1984).
Officials of the Newport Harbor Art Museum, housed since 1977 in Newport Center, expect to act this fall on a proposal to build a new and larger structure in the same area. One plan being considered, Consey said, might cost as much as $30 million.
Bowers Museum has been expanded only once--in 1974, when a 12,000-square-foot wing was built. The present size is 24,000 square feet.
But in 1981 the City Council shelved the most ambitious proposal yet--a $17-million plan to triple the size of the museum. That plan was dropped, city officials said, because of problems in launching a drive for private donors and revamping Bowers’ administrative and volunteer organizations.
Although museum backers said the fund-raising picture is still clouded by competition from the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the two other museums, they argued that Bowers is now organizationally ready to take on a major expansion.
The study panel asked that the museum’s new governing board be formed by Aug. 1. The board, composed of nine community representatives in charge of both operations and fund raising, is being created as part of a sweeping city-approved museum reorganization.
(By that time, Bowers’ new director may be hired, said Jan Perkins, deputy city manager. The post was vacated June 30 by William Lee, who quit to re-enter the university research field.)
Citing a Bowers fund-raising study last year by William Baer & Associates, a San Francisco consultant, Godinez said there is strong countywide endorsement of making Bowers a regional center--but little private money for a Bowers expansion. “They told us it isn’t time just yet for our big (private) drive, not until the Performing Arts Center’s drive winds down,” Godinez added.
Besides asking the city to pay the entire estimated $8.8-million expansion cost, the panel is also urging that the city continue its current level of annual support, Godinez added.
Perkins reported that $2.6 million in city redevelopment-bond and revenue-sharing funds have already been set aside for future Bowers improvements. The city’s annual subsidy for Bowers--now about $1.2 million--accounts for most of the museum’s operating budget.
As part of recent city improvements affecting Bowers, the city has already bought a lot across the street for museum parking, Perkins said.
Construction on a city-financed Bowers expansion could begin by mid-1987, Godinez said.
A detailed study on organizing the “museum district,” including cost estimates, is still to be made, Godinez said. The city staff has proposed that Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, a New York firm, do the study. The firm has already done the preliminary design work for the proposed Bowers expansion.
The other museums in the district, Godinez said, would be operated by other Orange County groups and possibly housed in existing buildings in the Main Street area. In addition to the Newport Harbor Art Museum, the panel has also held discussions with a group seeking to form a new children’s museum, he said.