Santa Clarita City Councilmembers received a feasibility study for a possible amphitheater to be built in the city, then shelved the idea at the Council’s meeting at City Hall Tuesday night.
The meeting’s agenda called for the Council to receive the report and direct city staff to do further analysis of the potential sites and seek opportunities for public/private partnerships.
Instead, councilmembers “tweaked” the agenda (as Councilman Cameron Smyth put it) to say the Council had received the report but would take no further action on it until and unless an opportunity presented itself.
The Council’s unanimous vote to shelve the amphitheater idea followed a detailed PowerPoint presentation by city Arts & Events Manager Phil Lantis outlining results of the feasibility study, conducted for the city by AEA Consulting LLC and John Sergio Fisher & Associates.
On the recommendation of the city’s Art Commission and Recommendation 5.1 of the Santa Clarita Arts Master Plan, the Council had asked for a feasibility study “for an outdoor amphitheater in a park, addressing its optimal focus, location, size and operating structure, as high priority in the 2016-17 Arts Commission Work Plan,” according to the Tuesday meeting agenda.
After seeking and qualifying bids, the city commissioned AEA and Fisher & Associates on November 14, 2017, to conduct the Amphitheater Feasibility Study at a cost of $59,640. Councilmembers approved an additional $7,332 in consultant travel expenses Tuesday night to complete the contract.
Lantis’ presentation recapped the city’s efforts to gather community feedback about a proposed amphitheater and the consultants’ evaluation, which focused on five potentially viable venue sites and projected funding costs for each scenario, with options.
The five sites were Beale’s Cut, Vulcan I and II, and Whittaker-Bermite I and II. The consultants established criteria and a scoring system for the sites, and Vulcan I, located just south of Highway 14 in Canyon Country, received the highest score.
The projected costs of a 3,000-seat venue with capacity for another 3,000 people on a knoll or lawn at the five sites ranged from $21.3 million to $70.2 million.
In each scenario, there was a seven-figure funding gap that would not be covered by ticket sales and the efforts of the nonprofit entity that would be created to operate the venue. The city would have to get that gap funded in some way.
Councilmembers heard comments about the proposed amphitheater from two residents — Tim-Ben Boydston, director of the Canyon Theatre Guild and a former City Councilman, and Diane Trautman, a former Santa Clarita city planning commissioner and current city council candidate.
Boydston emphatically suggested the city should avoid such an expensive and risky project, and instead build a smaller-scale venue at Rivendale.
Trautman suggested the community would be better served if the money for such a project were spent on solutions to homelessness in the city.
During the councilmembers’ post-presentation comments, Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean expressed reservations about the large scope and cost of the proposed project. McLean especially did not like the idea of an amphitheater on the Whittaker-Bermite site in the city’s center, because noise from the venue would affect surrounding neighborhoods. Such a venue should be “away” from residential areas, she said.
“Our recommended action was more pro-active in terms of starting to reach out to folks than the Council was comfortable with, and that’s their prerogative, of course,” Lantis said Wednesday. “As staff, we just provide them information and then they share with us how best to proceed.
“What I heard at least was, ‘We received the plan and if something comes across the desk that makes sense to have a conversation with, then look at that, but don’t actively go out and seek out partnerships at this point,” he said. “It doesn’t mean nothing’s ever going to happen with it. If the right opportunity comes up, then the door is open to have that discussion to bring it back. That could happen. Who knows?”
While supporters believe a new amphitheater would draw people and their money from outside the Santa Clarita Valley community and add to the city’s reputation as an arts destination, opponents preferred a more community-based venue that would not be a financial burden to the city.
“It is an interesting project because it is a much higher dollar amount than we’ve really asked from the (local) arts world before, and it’s definitely something that the community and Council and everybody should be supportive of,” Lantis said. “But it’s not something cheap, so I’m glad that there’s serious consideration and not just, ‘Yeah, go make it happen.’
“I think that (the Arts & Events staff and Arts Commission) have different opinions from the Council, it seems from last night, which is also a healthy thing,” Lantis said. “It was good to hear where we are. And if somebody walks in the door with a project that makes sense, we’ll pull that out and see if the numbers make sense, and bring it back to the Council and get their direction at that point.”
Lantis acknowledged it’s a challenge to find the right balance between community and development.
“We always try to balance those things that make Santa Clarita wonderful,” he said. “Some of that is the ‘biggest small town’ feeling, because we do care so much about community, and that should never go away. But part of being a big city sometimes is also opening up things. So it’s just about finding that balance. No one person has the answer.”
See the complete Amphitheater Feasibility Study starting on Page 82 of Tuesday’s council meeting agenda.
Watch the complete City Council meeting here.