EL CAJON ARTS CENTER NOT THE PLACE FOR ROCK CHURCH
Union Tribune (2014-10-24) Ray Lutz
This Page: http://www.copswiki.org/Common/M1513
Media Link: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/oct/24/tp-el-cajon-arts-center-not-the-place-for-rock/
Headline in hardcopy edition:
EL CAJON VENUE SHOULD BE OPEN FOR WIDE PUBLIC USE
The East County Performing Arts Center (ECPAC) has been closed unreasonably for four years now, foregoing at least a quarter-million dollars per year in direct revenue and perhaps five times that in tax revenues generated from economic activity, according to studies on the impact of an arts district. Such city infrastructure is not built to “stay in the black.” It is built for the benefit of the community, and can be a net positive in the big picture, drawing people to visit — and spend money — in El Cajon.
Exceptional in many ways, ECPAC has top-notch audio quality, excellent sight lines, professional quality theatrical rigging, orchestra pit with elevator, 1,142 comfy seats and free parking. Built in the late 1970s using taxpayer funds on city-owned property, ECPAC is a regional public asset, to be run for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.
Managed by Grossmont College, the Christian Youth Theater and others over the years, it has never been managed by a professional theater manager who was allowed the time to develop its full potential. Theater managers polled said they could easily run this theater with no city subsidy.
At the end of 2009, the city closed it, supposedly to reopen after $4.3 million in renovations. After the city reneged on its plans and then proposed in 2012 that it be demolished and replaced with a motel, our group “SaveECPAC” did a full review. Dispelling myths, we discovered that it was in remarkably good shape, with no strong reason to have closed it at all. We prepared and submitted a 60-page-plus plan in June of that year, concluding that the theater should be reopened immediately with roof repairs and some minor cleanup inside for only about $250,000 to $400,000 and then phasing in other changes and improvements over time.
After the city voted down the motel, officials articulated a plan to spruce it up and hire a professional theater manager, and even found a way to pay for it all. This plan is prudent, even though it continues to delay reopening unnecessarily and spends more than what we recommended as a start.
What we don’t need is to divert from this plan by locking in any “major tenant” before we have allowed a professional theater manager to plan the best course for ECPAC. All professional theater managers asked agreed on this. There is no need to rush into this contract with a church that will lock up the schedule in a grid like bars on a jail cell.
The Rock Church opened an El Cajon branch last year near both a trolley station and freeway access. Residents around their Point Loma and Serra Mesa locations universally hate the traffic jams the church creates, and the church doesn’t contribute a dime in taxes to share the burden. A number of lawsuits and other formal actions ensued to kick them out of those areas. But that area of El Cajon is perfect for such heavy use. Downtown is not a good match at all, with serious logistics issues. People avoid the traffic on Main Street as it is.
We’re not against the occasional use of ECPAC by The Rock Church or any other religious group. But we are against essentially turning ECPAC into a church. Any use by a religious group must be temporary so that other religions or secular groups have a fair shot at this unique public space. There must be a way to arbitrate between competing users, and the price must not be more advantageous than any other similar user.
The proposal, made after a tainted courting process, is for The Rock Church to use the center all Sundays, Tuesday nights, one Friday and Saturday night a month, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, etc. without a way to share those key times with other users, and a proposed construction of an adjacent 20,000-square-foot multistory building for The Rock Church offices and meeting rooms (under a 35-year lease). These are certainly a violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution and the “nonpreferential” and “nondiscriminatory” limits imposed by our state Constitution.
This theater does not need to be closed to public use. The city should prudently proceed with its plan to renovate ECPAC and hire a professional theater manager before attempting to lock in any major tenant, especially one with these problematic constitutional issues. Unfortunately, pandering may trump prudence.
Lutz is an East County native and electronics and software engineer. He operates a Montessori School in El Cajon with his wife.
*SEE PROPONENTS VIEWPOINT HERE: M1514