City officials briefed Santa Ana artists on a number of restrictions that are in place to protect the historic character of the Santora Building for the Arts, which is in escrow to be sold to Newsong church in Irvine.
Leaders of United Artists of Santa Ana, meanwhile, say they plan to seek a meeting with church leaders this week to seek terms that they say will help ensure that it remains a haven for artists.
Newsong is in escrow to buy the building for $6.2 million. Newsong has said it sees the Santora as a hub of a Santa Ana ministry as well as for the arts.
City Attorney Sonia R. Carvalho spoke Tuesday before an ad hoc City Council committee exploring the city’s options for maintaining the Santora’s place as a focal point of the Artists Village. She said staff had reviewed a variety of documents to determine what protections are in place, including the building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the Santa Ana Register of Historical Properties.
Artists are concerned about the potential sale of the building to the church, fearing such issues as censorship and attempts by the church to impose its mores on the building’s tenants and culture. A representative of the church said in an interview last week that church leaders are optimistic they can resolve the artists’ concerns.
At Tuesday’s briefing, Carvalho said exterior easements protect the façade, while interior easements would prevent the removal of interior walls to expand spaces.
While a church would be permitted, any changes in the building’s use that would result in significantly more people using it would require seismic upgrades, and access for people with disabilities.
She cautioned City Council members to avoid doing anything that might interfere with the sale, because of the potential for litigation.
The city in 2001 entered into a development agreement with building owner Michael Harrah for a $450,000 rehabilitation loan. It required that 80 percent of leasable space, excluding the Memphis restaurant space, be used for the arts, and it expired last year.
“It did exactly what it was supposed to do,” Carvalho said. “It provided the seed money and the enthusiasm to get the fire going….The question now is, what more can anyone do?”
She said that with the state’s elimination of redevelopment agencies, the city doesn’t have a tool that might have made possible a new covenant with the owner. Carvalho said a report will be prepared outlining protections on the building and restrictions on its uses.
The artists who met with the council committee pointed to a number of problems in the Santora, including water damage that results from rain, plumbing and air conditioning units. Carvalho and the council members on the committee – David Benavides, Michele Martinez and Carlos Bustamante – said they could convey those concerns to city building officials.
The artists outlined several issues they said they want to resolve with Newsong. They want to be able to use common areas in the Santora for events, to have access after hours, and to see an agreement reached to ensure that it is used primarily for artists. They want to see artists leases extended, and to seek grant money to subsidize rents, with rent controls in place.
The artists also want to see the city take a number of measures to promote the arts, including creation of an arts commission and a study of the economic impact of the arts. Benavides encouraged the artists to submit their ideas for consideration for a long-term strategic plan that the council seeks to develop.
Sandra Peña Sarmiento, one of the group in the meeting, said artists have agreed to hold off on any actions, such as picketing, until at least this weekend. Last weekend, unauthorized posters criticizing the church’s beliefs and Councilman Benavides, who attends Newsong, went up around the Artists Village, but Alicia Rojas, president of United Artists of Santa Ana, said the group had nothing to do with them.
Benavides stressed that he has no economic interest in the transaction, and wanted to keep a distance from the transaction to protect his work as a real estate broker and a councilman. He agreed to help, he said, when church officials asked him to speak about the Santora for a short video that was shown earlier this year to Newsong members in which he noted the Santora’s importance to the city and the Artists Village.
“My whole interest was to bring folks together,” he said, so that both sides could understand each other.
“The appearance was one of impropriety,” said Peña Sarmiento. Artists asked him to recuse himself from the committee at a recent council meeting.
Benavides noted that it was his idea to form the ad hoc council committee, and he brought the idea to the mayor. He credited the artists for making arts a focus of the city.
“Being involved in this is worth the arrows in the back,” he said. “I believe in art and I believe in what you guys are doing.”
Harrah plans to build a 37-story office tower in Santa Ana called One Broadway Plaza and wants to sell the Santora, built in 1928 at 207 N. Broadway.
In an interview, Tom Greer, chief financial officer of Newsong, said the church is continuing its negotiations with Harrah, with plans to close escrow in early July. It’s researching tenant agreements and the building’s needs and has met with representatives of the artists and the city. Among the plans it’s considering is a 300-seat “creative collaborative space,” Greer said, that could be used for small events by the church and the artists.
“In theory, we’re all hoping to achieve the same thing,” he said. “We hope to have an open collaboration with the artists’ community. We want to listen to their desires on how the building could be utilized for the arts. We want to be receptive to that, and we want to help them achieve those things.”