After 50 years, the Festival of Arts plans to put on a prettier face with more curb appeal to greet passers-by and festival-goers, and asked the city for a quick approval so their project could be complete for their 80th anniversary celebration in 2012. The city council however, had questions about funding, and the removal of 15 parking spaces that could prove problematic.
The council voted unanimously to approve part one of a renovation plan put forth by the Festival of the Arts, which would grant the festival a lease to less than an acre of lots on the hillside above Irvine Bowl. Part two of the project, a complete renovation of the Festival’s façade, has been recommended for further study.
Wayne Baglin, past festival president, presented a concept to renovate the festival’s 270-foot frontage that is in compliance with an environmental impact report already done and included refiguring the strip of 15 asphalt parking spaces and the sidewalk into a park-like setting. The coastal-canyon-inspired entrance would meander the length of the façade and spread 35 feet wide from the festival grounds to the curb, eliminating festival staff and city tennis court parking.
“Although Wayne seems to think there is no problem getting rid of 15 spaces, I think the Coastal Commission would have another feeling about that. I think we need to see a better detail of the façade,” said city council member Kelly Boyd.
Replacing eliminated parking spaces is a pet peeve of the California Coastal Commission but retiring City Manager Ken Frank said new parking lots and spaces in the city should appease the commission “if they’re rational,” and reminded the council of its goal to get visitors to use peripheral parking lots and summer trolleys rather than jamming city streets.
No price was placed on the project yet and, according to Baglin, no money is currently available in the capital improvement trust fund administered by the city and funded by the Festival.
When council members Verna Rollinger and Toni Iseman specifically asked where the money would come from, Fred Sattler, the festival’s treasurer for the past five years and its new president assured them it would be “the least of your worries.”
Iseman retorted, “Tell me what to worry about,” to which there were laughs all around.
“Our collateral is our investment portfolio, even this year,” said Sattler.
“Ah, that’s the secret,” commented Iseman.
“We’re in quite good shape,” Sattler responded.
That capital improvement fund receives six percent of festival revenue, or $350,000 annually, but Baglin said the festival routinely conducts capital improvements approaching $1 million, which are funded by a reserve account and bank loans. Nevertheless, the fund is administered by the city as part of its lease agreement with the festival and the city must accept the plan before it will condone the expenditure.
The council, minus an absent Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, agreed to return the plans to the festival’s landscape architect, Scott Sebastian, for a more detailed rendering.
“No one likes the way this looks and very few people like the way it works,” Sebastian said in his earlier presentation. “As you come into our city, this is what you get, this sort of span of pavement.”
Boyd voiced the consensus of the council by saying, “I don’t think we’re at the point yet where I’m willing or ready to approve the façade tonight.”
The concept depicted pick-up and drop-off zones for cars and buses, winding paths with permeable pavers, art, banners and water features alongside indigenous, drought-resistant vegetation similar to what has been discussed for a “Village Entrance” park across the street for almost 40 years.
“We want it to be what we’re all looking for in the community, bringing the canyon down toward us. We want it pedestrian-friendly,” said Baglin.
The new frontage would include a central entrance to the festival more conducive to viewing the exhibits rather than the existing south-side entrance that leads directly to the outdoor Pageant of the Masters’ theater.
The hillside lease that was approved will be landscaped with native plants in an effort to blend in with the canyon and provide a screen for houses in the neighborhood. Adding the lots to the festival’s lease with the city at no additional cost to the festival will save the city “thousands of dollars a year” in landscaping and maintenance fees, Baglin conjectured. The festival pays the city three and a half percent of certain revenues in rent, which totaled $231,108 last year (this year’s audit will be completed by the end of the month; rent is due at the end of the year).
Sattler said the remodeling, upon city approval, would begin after the close of the 2011 summer season and conclude by the opening of the next summer season.
Caption: An overview of the festival grounds with white lines demarcating the limits of the festival’s lease from the city, and red lines showing the extent of the proposed first phase of construction. Multiple iterations of the design, some of which may be different from that pictured here, are being explored. Photo by Tom Lamb.