Rock Church to lease El Cajon arts center
Union Tribune (2014-08-12) Karen Pearlman
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Rock Church to lease El Cajon arts center
By Karen Pearlman
9:40 p.m.Aug. 12, 2014
EL CAJON — The Rock Church will be a part-time resident of the East County Performing Arts Center, a popular entertainment venue in downtown El Cajon shuttered several years ago that has yet to re-open.
On Tuesday, the El Cajon City Council unanimously directed city staff to draft an agreement with the growing megachurch for a partial lease of the facility, closed since 2010 and set to open again in 2015.
The church also plans to lease adjacent land just to the south of ECPAC to construct and maintain a new 20,000-square foot building for the Rock Church that would be, in part, available for use by the city.
The city was considering options by both The Rock and Christian Youth Theater at Tuesday's meeting, but the CYT proposal was not discussed at length because the church's proposal was considered a far better deal for the city. CYT was the last manager of ECPAC up until the facility's closing. No other entities stepped forward to offer a deal. The city several months ago put out a public request for any parties interested in a long-term lease.
"The Rock Church proposal presents the greatest financial, usability and facility opportunities for the city and the community at large," City Manager Doug Williford wrote in an agenda report to the council.
Mark Stevens, the COO at The Rock Church, told the council that it has outgrown its current home in the old Michael's craft store at Jackman Street and Fletcher Parkway. It now draws more than 3,000 congregants to five services over 12 hours every Sunday.
Williford estimated that the church holding its services in ECPAC would attract 11,000 to 12,000 people per week, or 600,000 per year, to the downtown. A dozen speakers, most of them Rock Church congregants, told the council they supported the church using ECPAC.
Eric Lund, general manager at San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, told the city that it was "an imaginative, great solution." Developer John Gibson noted that the current state of El Cajon is booming, that "this place is busier than I've ever seen it. New car dealerships, new businesses moving to downtown, a lot of energy being put into this effort."
"We think it's a win-win situation," Stevens said. "A win for the city, a win for us to give us more room and bring more people down. We're excited about it."
Stevens said the church wants exclusivity on Sundays and also 25 percent of Fridays and Saturdays. Williford noted that 75 percent of all Friday and Saturday nights, as well as most mid-week nights during the year will be free for ECPAC to be used in a traditional role as a performing arts and event center, fully apart from the Rock Church’s private use of the facility as a church.
"There is no other action or development proposal that has ever come before the city that would generate more new business for downtown El Cajon and surrounding areas than this proposal," Williford said.
The council's vote on the matter was 4-0, with Councilman Gary Kendrick excused because one of his sons is a counselor for the youth theater group.
Included in the Rock Church's draft proposal was a requirement for use of the facility for 132 days a year; paying the city $216,000 annual rent; a five-year option with 2 percent increase in rent per year; paying the city $4,000 per month for land lease; and agreeing to a 35-year land lease, after which the city would take ownership of building at no cost.
The church also has plans to make the rooftop on its coming building designed as a quality "event" space and will make it available to the city unlimited times per year at no cost for the purposes of city direct use or city rental for private events, and able to be used by the Rock Church all other times.
"This is the finest proposal that's ever been made to the city," Williford told the council, after which a pro-Rock Church audience exploded in applause.
Four speakers, including Ray Lutz of Citizens' Oversight Projects, said they didn't think The Rock moving in was in the city's best interest, that it would cut into other arts events and entertainment activities. Speaker Bonnie Price felt that the city's lease was being offered at a "bargain price instead of fair market price."
Longtime El Cajon resident Art Ballantyne called for the city to get a management entity for ECPAC in place to address those and other issues.
El Cajon has long been open to the possibility of creating either a partnership or a major tenant use agreement for ECPAC. Last year the city met and held discussions with the Grossmont Union High School District about a partnership, but no agreement was met.
The architectural firm of Mosher Drew has been preparing construction plans for the renovation of the facility. According to Williford, work should be completed on ECPAC so that it may reopen during the second half of 2015, though he said there will be a more definitive date when construction bids are received in the future.
ECPAC, a 1,145-seat theater in the 35,000-square-foot building built in 1977, still needs fire alarms, smoke detectors, roof repairs and upgrades to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Before it closed in 2010, ECPAC offered concerts, plays, dance performances and more. It opened in 1977 and was initially operated by the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, then later transferred to the city of El Cajon for $1 in 1995. The city planned to reopen it in 2011, but safety issues stalled the plan.
"I trust we are making a prudent decision," Mayor Bill Wells said. "The whole concept of using this facility to its utmost capacity... to have access to 5,000 people a weekend coming down here and buying things at (downtown) stores is exciting."