By RON GONZALES / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
SANTA ANA – Artists who want to ensure that the Santora Arts Building remains a haven for the arts have gotten the attention of City Hall.
Mayor Miguel Pulido announced at Monday’s City Council meeting the creation of an ad hoc council committee to monitor its potential sale, and to explore the city’s options for maintaining its place as a focal point of the city’s Artists Village.
The Santora Arts Building is the ornate visual anchor of the Santa Ana Artists Village.
ANA VENEGAS, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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Serving on the committee will be Councilwoman Michele Martinez, whose district includes the Artists Village, and councilmen Carlos Bustamante and David Benavides. Benavides attends Newsong church of Irvine, which is in escrow to buy the building.
The mayor’s announcement came after more than a half dozen speakers told the council of their concerns about a church taking over the Santora and moving into the Artists Village.
“I consider it the heart of the Artists Village,” the mayor said to applause. “We care about the use of the Santora building. We want to make sure that the Artists Village continues to thrive.”
Each of the council members echoed that concern, citing such issues as the importance of the Artists Village to downtown life, the artistic and historical signifance of the Santora and what the city and the committee could do to help preserve the building’s current use. Church representatives had met with city officials earlier in the day, but none addressed the council at its meeting.
Newsong is seeking to buy the Santora for $6.2 million from developer Michael Harrah, who plans to build a 37-story office tower in Santa Ana called One Broadway Plaza.
Church officials have said they want to develop at the Santora a new ministry hub focusing on training and urban ministry, as well as office space. As space becomes available, the church has said it would consider development of a meeting facility with at least 300 seats that could accommodate training and weekend services, but now is saying those services aren’t part of the plan. Church officials have also said they want to see the 48,000-square-foot Santora serve as a hub for the creative community.
“We have stated repeatedly to representatives of the artist community, Santora tenants, civic leaders and business people that we do not intend to conduct weekend services at Santora,” said Tom Greer, director of innovation, on Tuesday. “Given the zoning restrictions of the Downtown District and the historical preservation easements that are in place, a traditional church facility is not even feasible. Also, we have repeatedly stated our intent to protect the historical preservation of Santora and that we have no intention to displace any of the current tenants or censor their art.”
Alicia Rojas, president of the recently launched United Artists of Santa Ana, spoke Monday on behalf of at least 50 people who briefly stood to show their support.
She said that when the arts community learned that a church might be buying the Santora, many raised concerns about the potential for censorship. She said that artists want to see the terms of an expired development agreement embedded in a new contract involving the city, Harrah and the new buyer.
The city in 2001 entered into a 10-year development agreement with Harrah, amended in 2002, that called for the developer, under terms of a $500,000 forgivable loan, to rehabilitate the Santora for a restaurant – the Memphis – and art-related uses.
The artists also want to ensure that the historic character of the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is preserved.
Rojas gave the council a petition with 865 signatures supporting the artists.
Council members urged the artists to continue their struggle, and indicated they’re in the artists’ corner.
“Unfortunately, it’s a private party transaction,” said Bustamante. “I don’t care who buys it, as long as the original intent, in perpetuity, maintains what it is now.”
“I hope that whatever buyer it is, whether it is faith based or whether it is secular,” said Councilman Vince Sarmiento, “that they respect what has happened to get our city and our downtown to get to the point where it is. That’s really the hope, that folks who are there are not displaced, and that priorities that have been set there are not going to be changed.”
Jay M. Trevino, executive director of the city’s Planning and Building Agency, said that he and other staff met with representatives of Newsong earlier Monday.
He said the church representatives were told in detail of the 1928 building’s listing on city and national historic registries, its zoning and about the building codes that would govern any changes.
“All the character defining features have to be protected,” Trevino said. “They cannot be disturbed except by the city’s prior written approval.”
Trevino noted that the building was constructed to house office and retail spaces.
Changing use of the building would mean it would have to comply with safety standards, for example, dealing with exits, he said.
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