Simi Valley OKs Contract for Arts Center

The transformation of an old Simi Valley church into a cultural arts center will begin in two weeks, more than 10 years after advocates for the arts launched a battle to build a theater in Simi Valley.

After a brief but contentious debate, the Simi Valley City Council voted 3 to 2 to award a $2.55-million construction contract to a Van Nuys building firm to convert the 1920s church into a 300-seat theater. The city has set aside the entire cost from community development funds.

At the Monday night meeting, Councilwoman Sandi Webb reiterated her longstanding opposition to the project, saying taxpayer dollars should be spent on a new police station instead.

"Until I see the paperwork for the police station funding, I am going to hold off on this," Webb said.

As Webb was speaking, Councilman Bill Davis angrily burst in.

"You are wrong," Davis said. "This project is not taking money from the police station and you shouldn't be talking about something you don't know about."

The city has set aside $4 million in community development funds to help fund construction of a new police station within the next three to five years.

Mayor Greg Stratton said the city expects to raise the rest of the estimated $12-million to $15-million cost of a police station through developer fees.

Stratton and Councilwoman Judy Mikels voted in favor of the project.

Councilwoman Barbara Williamson joined Webb in voting against the project, saying it should be funded by private businesses.

After the vote, Mikels, an ardent arts center supporter, let out an elated whoop.

"I don't normally do that," Mikels said. "But it's been 10 years of hard work."

The remodeling of the church, at 3050 Los Angeles Ave., is expected to begin later this month and to be completed by February.

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