Times Staff Writer

The former owner of Safari Sam's nightclub in Huntington Beach lost the first round of an effort to establish a multi-faceted contemporary cultural arts complex in Costa Mesa when the Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday night to deny a conditional use permit for the project.

"It's an exciting concept," Commissioner Edward H. Glasgow said before entering a motion to deny the permit. "I hope the proprietors will not get discouraged (by the denial) because it is a good project--it's just not the right place for it."

Sam Lanni, who developed Safari Sam's into Orange County's most eclectic and adventuresome nightclub before it closed in September when Huntington Beach officials refused to renew its entertainment permit, said he will appeal the commission's action to the City Council. (Huntington Beach's action was based on neighbors' complaints of noise and vandalism.)

Lanni and several partners proposed a 12,000-square-foot complex with separate rooms for contemporary music, theater, art and films as well as a restaurant and bar.

In denying the conditional use permit, Planning Commission members cited potential parking congestion in the industrial park in northeast Costa Mesa where the complex would be built. They also expressed concern that liquor would be served under Lanni's proposal.

"Why does there have to be a bar?" Commissioner Joe Erickson asked. "The concept sounds exciting, but I don't like the idea of mixing a bar where there will be children and students. A bar is just asking for trouble."

After the vote, however, Holly Lenz, one of the project's supporters, challenged the argument, pointing out that other arts facilities in Costa Mesa, including the Orange County Performing Arts Center and South Coast Repertory Theatre, serve liquor where children are permitted.

Lanni said he hopes to create a family entertainment center where all age groups would be able to find something to their liking. He said rock, new wave, folk and jazz bands such as those that played Safari Sam's would be booked but less frequently than the defunct club's nightly booking policy.

Lanni said he has secured about $40,000 of the $225,000 to $250,000 he estimates will be necessary to launch the project.

The focus of the arts complex would be local music, art and theater that have little or no exposure in Orange County, Lanni said. Two movie theaters would show first-run foreign films, revivals, student projects and independently produced movies.

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