Arts Park L.A. Remains an Elusive Dream : Worthy Project Faces Tough Approval Process After 12 Years of Disputes and Revisions

Over the years, we have waxed enthusiastic over the coming of age of the Los Angeles theater scene, welcoming various additions to the arts and the flourishing of cultural growth with proper cause. The same sort of excitement might already have been generated by a plan to offer the San Fernando Valley its own arts complex for world-class and local performances. Perhaps that hasn't yet occurred because just such a project has been mired in disputes throughout its 12-year-history.

The Sepulveda Basin Arts Complex, otherwise known as Arts Park L. A., was originally designed as a sprawling, 60-acre complex with an outdoor amphitheater and lakeside pavilion, as well as a subterranean performing arts center with 1,800-seat and 500-seat theaters. Because of its location, however, the effort quickly generated a torrent of ardent protest that should have hardly been unexpected.

A private Valley-based nonprofit group known as the Cultural Foundation had proposed to build on one of Los Angeles' largest remaining green spaces, and environmentalists and neighbors by the score were up in arms. Troubled also by the location and scale of the project was the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land and leases it to the city.

Since then, the foundation has offered to relocate certain structures and greatly scaled back its plans. Gone is the lakeside pavilion idea, as well as the outdoor amphitheater. But has the foundation gone far enough to ease concerns? We will have an idea when the corps releases an environmental impact report in the coming weeks. Environmentalists are sure to object to any construction.

But it is likely that the Arts Park project would have been welcomed with open arms at any number of other sites around the Valley. And even if the scaled-down version does receive approval by the corps, the city's Parks and Recreation Department and the City Council, the hard work of raising the money to build such a complex now comes in the midst of Southern California's continuing recession. That is unfortunate for an idea that was floated, 12 years ago, with such worthy goals.

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