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City, COC performing arts center may split

Mayor says it's a win-win for both parties

Posted: January 24, 2009 9:59 p.m.
Updated: January 25, 2009 4:59 a.m.
The City Council is poised to end its formal connection with College of the Canyons' theater, which will also stop the flow of $20,000 annually toward the theater manager's salary.

An item on Tuesday's council agenda proposes the dissolution of the memorandum of understanding between the city and the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons.

The agreement was set up in 2000, when the city contributed $2.4 million to increase the seating capacity of the concert hall.

In return, COC agreed to provide a certain number of dates for community groups.

Additionally, the city contributes $50,000 annually for the "Santa Clarita Presents" program, providing community arts grants, plus $20,000 towards the theater manager's annual salary.

Over the past year city and college officials focused on the question of how to move forward, said Rick Gould, Santa Clarita's director of parks, recreation and community services.

The "Santa Clarita Presents" program will be unaffected, according to the agenda report for Tuesday's meeting.

While the college will need to reconfigure how certain details are handled, "there's a common misconception that (the $2.4 million) provided access in perpetuity for groups," COC spokesman John McElwain said.

The way he sees it, the college has always been committed to keeping the theater open to a broad array of acts.

"We want to continue to fulfill that part of our mission," McElwain said. "People live their entire lives around this."

Under the existing agreement, about 34 percent of the year's dates were available to local arts groups, said Adam Phillipson, managing director of the performing arts center. The process is that dates are first booked by groups connected to the college, then by outside groups, he said. Community groups get to pick from the remaining dates, which are typically made available in February, he said.

Whatever the City Council decides Tuesday, the 2009-10 calendar will not be affected, Phillipson said.

"We will not leave (community groups) hanging," he said.

The 926-seat theater near the corner of Valencia Boulevard and Rockwell Canyon Road cost $18.3 million to build and opened in 2004.

If Tuesday marks the end of the agreement, Phillipson said he will be faced with the task of finding more commercial uses for the theater. Community groups would not see a fee increase, according to the agenda report on the matter. Rental costs are controlled by the state Civic Center Act, which sets fees for nonprofit groups at the direct cost of operating the facility.

Without a formal mandate to provide dates for community groups, COC may be in a position to pursue and book "bigger and better acts," Mayor Frank Ferry said Friday. "We're helping COC expand its program."


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