$1.7 million allocated for new city hall renovation

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Preliminary plans call for reducing the 500-seat theater to 230 seats, which some council members say could affect the ability to rent it for extra income.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

With hopes of moving into its new $15 million city hall in less than a year, the Malibu City Council held a special meeting last week to discuss an anticipated $1.7 million in improvements and potential uses of the building (formerly known as the Malibu Performing Arts Center) it will eventually call home.

The city in June purchased the 35,000-square-foot building in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings from former owner Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Located in the Civic Center area adjacent to the current city hall, it houses a 500-person theater, a state-of-the-art recording studio (utilized by music artists such as Barbra Streisand and Tom Petty, among others) and space the city intends to rent to the public for community uses.

In addition to its staff offices, the city intends to relocate the Malibu Senior Center and council chambers to the new building as well. The challenge, however, is modifying the former MPAC so that its amenities can serve both the city and the public. The city has allocated $1.7 million to do so.

Richard D’Amato of LPA, Inc., the architecture firm that will also handle the Malibu Library Renewal Project, presented a preliminary redesign plan in which the 500-person theater would also be used as 2,250-square-foot council chambers.

The problems with doing so, however, are poor sight lines that limit views to the stage, which is currently not handicap accessible, and the large distance between the first row of seats and the stage. Complications also exist with the acoustics and lighting of the theater, which would have to be modified to suit the atmosphere of a meeting space.

To mediate those issues, the plan suggests reducing the seating from 500 to 230, which D’Amato said would also reduce the size of the room and create additional space for community use. But council members debated the seat reduction, questioning how it would affect their ability to rent the theater for public use to generate income.

“It pains me to see you mess around with that theater because it was designed for performances, and I wonder if you take half the chairs out how much that’s going to affect the acoustics,” Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky said at the meeting, adding that she and Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich agreed that city council meetings 80 percent of the time can be held in a room the size of the current 1,000-square-foot council chambers.

Barovsky also felt that the space could be used for other purposes with the theater left intact.

“There’s absolutely nowhere in this city except Duke’s to have banquets, for businesses or weddings,” Barovsky said. “I personally think that’s a bigger money-maker than a theater.”

Planning Commissioner John Mazza, however, said the seat reduction is necessary. The cost of renting the theater when MPAC was operational was $7,000 per night, “which may work for benefit rock concerts but not for local youth groups,” Mazza said. “We have to remember that this operation went bankrupt and it wasn’t filled very often. The revenue is important but it’s not so much how much you rent it for, it’s how often you rent it.”

Councilmember Jefferson Wagner requested 235-square-feet be reserved for a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, and suggested utilizing a flat grassy area adjacent to the building as an outdoor area with trash cans and benches “for private time away from the office building.”

Residents attending the meeting contributed input on how the new city hall could best serve the community. Sally Phillips of the Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families spoke of the “ongoing need for a Malibu teen center” and suggested one be implemented in the new city hall.

The teen center would provide 15- to 18-year-olds with mentoring, career training, job and community service opportunities, Phillips said at the meeting, adding that the foundation will generate the revenue to help cover the cost of the programs.

“The foundation is well funded and we have a diverse pool of donors, many of whom have stated they have interest in funding [the teen center],” Phillips told the council. “The foundation is professionally run, we have the history, knowledge and experience to mange a well run teen center. All we need is the space.”

Both Mayor Pro Tem Barovsky and Councilmember Conley Ulich agreed. “We need a teen center,” Barovsky said. “It’s the last political promise I’ve made that I haven’t been able to keep.”

Film composer Richard Gibbs, who also referred to himself as a “former rock and roller,” suggested starting an advanced music academy within the performing arts center.

“In that function it could also interact with a teen center and provide many services and bring in a great deal of revenue to the city,” Gibbs told the council. “There’s lots of money to be made on music industry.”

Yet, despite the brainstorm of ideas by residents and city officials, Administrative Services Director Reva Feldman said “the city first needs to decide how much space it needs for its own uses before space can be given to other programs.”