By RON GONZALES / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The Santora Arts Building, home of a variety of arts studios, is the heart of the Artists Village. ANA VENEGAS, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
SANTA ANA ??? A congregation in Irvine is in escrow to purchase the historic Santora Arts Building in downtown Santa Ana.
Newsong, which describes itself as "a vibrant community/church of artists, creative, innovators, entrepreneurs and community development leaders," said that it has entered escrow through a separate entity ??? a limited-liability corporation.
"The planned purchase will be to continue and even improve the Santora's place in Orange County as a hub for all things creative," a news release said. "Discussions ranging from the creation of a community arts theater to artistic opportunities for Santa Ana youth are only in the dream phase at this point."
According to an online message from Lead Pastor Dave Gibbons, the congregation is seeking to buy the building for $6.2 million, with a down payment of $3.2 million and a bank loan of $3 million.
The church 10 years ago embarked on a fundraising campaign to acquire land for a future home for the church, focusing on Irvine, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana. The money would come from that effort, the message says.
"At this stage of the process, we aren't rushing into any particular plans for the building until we really get to know and understand the heart of the current tenants and community stakeholders," said Shaun King, Newsong director of communications, in a prepared statement. "When we learned that the building was for sale, we saw this as an opportunity to ensure that The Santora didn't just become a random office complex with a rich history, but that it would serve as a regional and even an international hub for the creative community. Our dream is a harmonious community partnership at every level and we want to preserve the historical integrity of this beautiful building."
Developer Michael Harrah, who owns the Santora and who plans to build a 37-story office tower in Santa Ana called One Broadway Plaza, has sought to sell the the Santora, a key portion of the Artists Village area, as well as the property where his Original Mike's restaurant is located. A representative said recently that Harrah was seeking to raise money for the office development.
Gil Marrero, vice president of Voit Commercial Brokerage, said last month that because most of the leases in the Santora building are for longer terms, such as two to 10 years, use of the building won't change substantially. He declined to discuss the potential sale.
The 1928 Santora building, at 207 N. Broadway, initially housed a number of shops and became home during the 1930s and 1940s of a popular restaurant that attracted Hollywood celebrities. Marrero said it has about 48,000 square feet of space.
Newsong's headquarters is on Teller Avenue in Irvine, and it's seeking a replacement in Irvine, Gibbons' message said.
"The Santa Ana building is not a replacement for Irvine weekend activities," Gibbons said. "It will be a new ministry hub focusing on training and urban ministry. This proposed acquisition gives us an opportunity to connect with artists and marginalized people in a very unique way. Newsong would be recognized as a group that is vested in the community and would place us in a role of significant influence in Santa Ana."
According to Tom Greer, Newsong director of innovation, the congregation has no plans to displace tenants, and wants to see them renew their leases.
"If you look at our website and review our Strategic Initiatives, you will see that connecting to artists is an important part of who we are. We work with artists in NYC, Mexico City, London and throughout Asia," he said by email "Our purpose is to be an active and integral part of the community. We have no plans to change the building."
Santa Ana Councilman David Benavides said he first joined Newsong about 10 years ago and recently reconnected with it as it became more engaged in Santa Ana.
"They've been looking to potentially acquire a property in Santa Ana for a while," he said.
For a vote April 8 by the congregation on the purchase, Benavides appeared in a video for the congregation in which he discussed the role of the Santora and the Artists Village in the city. He wasn't present for the vote.
He called Gibbons a friend, a creative thinker and a leader, and the congregation as one with a passion for service.
"It is a progressive, outside-the-box genuine community of Christians who just want to do right by whatever community they find themselves in," he said. He said the congregation has been involved in a number of projects in Santa Ana, providing support for the educational Kidworks program and helping needy families and homeless people get their clothes cleaned through a program called Laundry Love. It also sponsored art exhibits.
He said that the arts community, which has been concerned about the sale, should have an open mind about the pending purchase by Newsong.
"The buyer could been someone who doesn't care about the arts, who doesn't care to be engaged in the community or in community development," he said. "Here, it's the complete opposite. This is a group that is very committed to community, committed to the arts, committed to uplifting whatever neighborhood it finds itself in. This is a buyer who is very much excited to be part of what's going on in Santa Ana now and being part of Santa Ana's future."
United Artists of Santa Ana plans to hold a meeting Thursday evening at the Santora to discuss the purchase.
"I believe its going to take several meetings and a bunch of dialogue for the artists to feel comfortable," said artist Matt Southgate. "We have to fully understand who this church is and exactly how the arts fits in with their belief system."
Alicia Rojas, a leader of United Artists, said that artists want to see the Santora remain focused on the arts, and added that concerns have been heightened because the potential buyer is a church, and some fear censorships. She said the church has been open to meeting with artists.
???The Santora has been a starting place for the arts, so people want to maintain a sense that the building will remain an icon that focuses on creative freedom of expression,??? she said. ???There???s a concern that we???d be accepted as who we are.???
Contact the writer: 714-796-6999 or email@example.com