Oxnard Backs Raising Funds to Repair Art Museum, Civic Center : Finances: The council favors forming a nonprofit group charged with bringing in $1.5 million for much-needed improvements.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oxnard officials agreed Tuesday to embark on an ambitious fund-raising campaign aimed at rescuing the city's civic center and art museum from severe cutbacks or even closure.

The City Council unanimously endorsed the formation of a nonprofit agency to raise $1.5 million over the next three years to pay for renovation of the Carnegie Art Museum and the city's Civic Center, which consists of a community center and auditorium.

The city, which pays nearly $800,000 a year to operate the facilities, has no money to pay for the much-needed improvements.

Without the renovation, officials said, the two buildings are likely to decay beyond repair.

"These facilities need help now," City Manager Vern Hazen told the council. "We are footing the bill for them in terms of our annual subsidy. This is a chance to spread that around."

In a separate action, council members voted to close the auditorium and community center on Mondays to save money, but rejected a city staff proposal to shut the doors of the art museum and mothball its $1-million art collection.

The once-a-week Civic Center closure will save Oxnard $90,000 a year. Closure of the art museum could have saved the city another $81,000 a year.

"I'm afraid if we close it down, we will never open it again," Councilman Michael Plisky said of the museum.

City officials, who initially intended to try to raise $200,000 a year to offset the annual operating costs of the facilities, commissioned a study last year to identify potential donors.

But the study by Robert B. Sharp Co. of Santa Ana determined that the greatest need for the facilities was renovation.

"We found through our studies that we need to address the overall picture," Parks and Recreation Director Gary Davis told the council. "The facilities need to be rehabilitated. They need a face lift."

The auditorium is in need of new carpeting, seats and a fresh coat of paint, and the community center needs better restrooms and an upgraded kitchen, officials said.

It will cost about $1.3 million to do that work, and an additional $200,000 is needed to refurbish the art museum.

The money "is going to come from those closest to the institutions and those most vested in Oxnard," said Kathleen O'Neill, Sharp's vice president.

About 90,000 people a year from throughout Ventura County use the auditorium, and nearly 200,000 people a year use the community center, which houses meeting rooms and banquet halls. Another 25,000 to 30,000 people visit the art museum each year.

The civic center and museum generate about $360,000 a year for the city.

"People get involved in the arts and they bring with them a high level of energy," Hazen said. "And these are worthwhile projects. There is simply nothing else like them in the county."

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