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Encinitas will study potential arts venues

ENCINITAS — The City Council at Wednesday night’s meeting directed staff to begin a feasibility study on locations that could host a community arts venue. 

The study will analyze which kind of arts facilities zoning allows on prospective properties like the 67-acre Leichtag Foundation property or the Pacific View school site. Funding options, including possible public-private partnerships, would also be included in the study.

It could take more than a year to complete the study.

In the meantime, the City Council requested a staff report by February or March on the viability of transforming a vacant pad at the Encinitas Ranch Town Center into an open-air theater. Councilman Tony Kranz said that property has been “growing weeds” and it’s time to explore doing something with it.

“The El Camino Real corridor needs a venue such as that,” Kranz said. “We’ve been talking about the 101 corridor quite a bit, but I think it’s critical we look to the east.”

Plans to build a performing arts theater with more than 500 seats on the less-than-one-acre pad never materialized in the late 1990s because organizers didn’t raise enough funds.

Jim Gilliam, arts administrator for the city, said that a telephone survey in 2002 polled 300 residents about their interest in attending arts events. The survey revealed that of the arts, residents were most interested in live theater.

Wednesday night’s meeting was a special “strategic planning” workshop to address all things arts related. Gilliam, along with representatives from Lux Art Institute, the 101 Artists’ Colony and Intrepid Shakespeare Company, gave an overview of the city’s diverse artistic programs and offerings.

When asked about the city’s weaknesses when it comes to the arts, Gilliam said the city boasts a substantial number of arts organizations, from dance to live theater. But the organizations often can’t share the programming they’ve developed in Encinitas due to the lack of venues in the city.

“We have an abundance of arts organizations that are buying and renting space outside of the city,” Gilliam said. “The goal would be, that once we have a facility that is well designed and suits their needs, that they would stay home.”

For years, many residents have made the case that the Pacific View school site is the ideal home for artists. In the spring, the city agreed to look at buying the property from EUSD (Encinitas Union School District).

Currently, a council subcommittee is negotiating in closed sessions with a EUSD subcommittee over a potential purchase price.

This summer, the city received two varying appraisals of Pacific View, one for $3.29 million, and the other at $7.28 million.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said the city should start looking at short-term uses of the Pacific View site in the event the city purchases the property. That way, should Encinitas acquire the property, the site would generate revenue, giving the city more time to develop a long-term vision for Pacific View.

However, other council members said it’s premature given that negotiations with EUSD are still ongoing.

The Leichtag Foundation property, which was purchased last year, could host a community arts venue, said Thomas Blessent, an architect representing the foundation.

He said a community arts venue on the property would fit in nicely with other cultural offerings at the nearby San Diego Botanic Garden and the San Dieguito Heritage Museum.

“Along the Quail Gardens Drive, Saxony Road corridor, there are really incredible opportunities for … a possible arts and culture district,” Blessent said.

Much of the Leichtag property will be dedicated to agriculture, but there will also be room for an arts venue, as well as for other uses, Blessent said.