Stuck between the Rock and a hard place

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Once again, the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon was the center of discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting. Now, expected to open in the latter part of 2015, the city is looking for a continuous stream of revenue to help offset the yearly cost of operations.

Once again, the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon was the center of discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting. Now, expected to open in the latter part of 2015, the city is looking for a continuous stream of revenue to help offset the yearly cost of operations.

City Manager Douglas Williford recommended to council that it directs staff to pursue a draft final agreement with the Rock Church, establishing a partial lease of the facility and to lease adjacent land for a new building for the church, that would be available for use by the city.

This is an ongoing conflict, many stating it goes against the constitutional law of separation of church and state, that leasing the ECPAC will hinder the ability of quality performing arts on site, and that the city is moving to fast without a proper long-term business plan as it has yet to even hire a manager to facilitate performances. Although, I am not a lawyer, I do not see any reason that this would fall under the constitutional law, as on the surface it seems to be nothing more than a business decision. But it was made clear at the meeting that if the city goes into this agreement, there will be lawsuits filed, which could hold up the process of opening up the center.

There were two proposals submitted, Rock Church and the Christian Youth Center.

Rock Church’s current proposal is use of the facility for approximately 132 days per year. They are asking for every Sunday of the year to support its five services, bringing in an estimated 4,500 into downtown each Sunday, Tuesdays for music rehearsals and one Friday (sometimes rolling into Saturday) for church conventions and seminars. It also wants to lease the adjacent land for $4,000 per month to construct a two-story 20,000 sq. feet office/classroom/meeting space for the church, which after 35 years would become city property. This building will be designed with an event space on the roof, catering kitchen and a VIP/Reception room for use by the city.

The lease agreement for the use of the ECPAC center now stands at a daily rental cost of $1,636 per day.

There were many in attendance, for the first time in support of this agreement, including the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce and the El Cajon Downtown Business partners. There was a strong attendance by Rock Church, made especially evident by the sudden outburst of, “Who’s the man? Jesus is!” in the middle of Williford’s presentation. Several of them spoke, but I wonder how many of those there were actually residents of El Cajon.

Also on the agenda, but not discussed was the proposal by the Christian Youth Theater, that is asking for usage of the facility for 120 days of the year and the agenda report clearly states that the city is looking for two additional tenants other than Rock Church in order to bring in around 12,000 people into the downtown area per week.

Rock Church assured the city parking would not be a problem, which I do not quite understand, because parking is a big issue in the downtown area already. I have no problem with a church being in the middle of downtown. We already have a large church adjacent to the Prescott Promenade and my concerns are not about religion and politics. As much as council supported this idea, it is moving too fast and making decisions that will strongly affect the ability of usage of ECPAC. By the time they get all these tenant agreements in place, have black out days every week for tenants, they will hire a manager at a substantial cost will only have the ability to book mediocre entertainment in small time frames. It seems to me the city has already given up of the dream of ECPAC being a center of culture for East County. If they go forward with this proposal, and others, it might as well be utilized for a civic center and make plans for another facility for performing arts.

I fully support Rock Church finding a new home to facilitate its growing congregation, but I believe there are other alternatives. There are plenty of empty large facilities in and near downtown that the church could buy, lease and build a new church to accommodate its growing needs. But, it seems that option is not on the table.

I respect the fact that the city is proactively trying to make the ECPAC center financially stable, but it is doing so at the cost of its original intent. The city needs to move forward with a long-range plan business plan, before entering into such large agreements. And I agree with many, that Rock Church is getting a bargain with pricing. If it is going to take up such a large chunk of space that cannot be used for performing arts, it should at minimum pay fair market prices for the use of a new state-of-the art facility.

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