Approval Expected for Simi Arts Center Plans : Culture: Panel’s vote tonight could pave the way for 70-year-old church’s conversion into a performance venue.


Simi Valley’s plan to convert a 70-year-old church into a 300-seat theater is expected to be approved by the Planning Commission tonight, clearing the way for construction of the city’s first full-fledged cultural arts center.

The design for the center was approved by the City Council on a 3-2 vote in August, and officials said the major impediments to the plan’s passage have now been addressed.

“I’m confident that the plan is going to be well-received by the other commissioners,” said Michael Piper, a planning commissioner and member of a committee formed to look into the project.


“I think the only issue that’s outstanding at this point is parking, and I’d like to see us work through that and push the project ahead,” Piper said.

If approved, the center would include the theater and banquet facilities, and a 78-space parking lot. Piper said there was concern that the parking lot would not be large enough for a sold-out performance at the 300-seat theater.

But city planners said in a report that the existing lot, combined with space at a nearby school, would provide enough parking.

Parking was one of a number of concerns that consultants, architects and city staff have grappled with since 1991, when the city bought the building at 3050 Los Angeles Ave. for $821,000.

The building, which opened in 1924 as the Simi Valley Community Methodist Episcopal Church, has gone unused since it was purchased, and it will require extensive work to bring it up to today’s codes.

But Deputy City Manager Bob Heitzman said the wood-framed structure withstood January’s earthquake with only minor damage. The city has not had to change its original cost estimate of $2.8 million, he said.


Concern about locating the theater’s entrance across from a fire station and the potential for traffic to affect the Fire Department’s response time has been addressed by fire officials, Heitzman said.

The plan now calls for limited parking on adjacent Church Street, clearing access for firetrucks.

In terms of programming and fund raising for the proposed center, members of the Simi Valley Cultural Assn. said they plan to contribute time and energy to keeping the facility booked.


“We are thrilled with the idea of having a theater right here in Simi Valley so that we don’t have to drive over the hill into Los Angeles,” said Irene Silbert, an association board member.

“We believe that in a community of 100,000 plus, having a cultural arts center is a necessity,” she said.

Silbert said she believes that the center will attract local performers and traveling acts. Its smaller size will help it distinguish itself from the larger Civic Arts Plaza being built in Thousand Oaks, she said.


“We’re really looking to fill a niche that has gone unfilled for too long,” she said.

If it is approved, the center could be completed as early as January, Heitzman said.