By Mary Long
Ojai City Council members convened on June 22 to unanimously award the construction contract for the rebuilding of Libbey Bowl to McGillivray Construction Inc. Architect David Bury presented an artist’s rendering of the proposed bowl renovation explaining what would be covered by the by the 3,000,000 raised for the core components. He assured the council that “this building is designed to last for the ages,” engineered with steel and concrete and equipped to accommodate a variety of performing arts. The core and central components and Alternatives 1 and 3 are currently funded. This includes the shell, stage right and left, the Green Room, manager’s office, rear deck, paving, access off the front, walks, driveway, handicapped ramp, new sidewalk, site drainage, fencing, underground cables, paving for seating, trash enclosure, new landscaping (with the addition of 12 new trees) and restored wetlands near the historic Libbey sycamore tree. Alternative 2 is the addition of group dressing rooms and additional private dressing rooms for which, according to Ojai Music Festival President Esther Wachtell, almost enough funds have been raised.
City manager Jere Kersnar provided the council members with a financial study of the impact on the city general reserves that funding the Libbey Bowl renovation would create. Kersnar brought graphs of city reserves and presented “cautiously optimistic” and “cautiously pessimistic” scenarios to the council. The possibility of attaining outside financing for the bowl seemed to have been thrown out prior to last night’s meeting with the Music Festival and the City Council collaborating to put funding in place to start the rebuilding immediately. According to Wachtell, the funds raised by the Music Festival come from their founders and they expect a 99 percent funding of the pledges already received. Since McGillivray Construction will need to be paid over the construction year, the city will have to finance the construction costs out of their reserve fund while pledges are collected.
Councilwoman Sue Horgan asked for a 10 percent contingency plan which was established though the use of “value engineering” to create a contingency fund without raising the overall bid for construction.
At the close of the session Peter Strauss took the podium urging the council, Music Festival and the city population at large to see the vision of the benefits of building an international-caliber outdoor theater. Imploring the city to build a “beautiful bowl” which would attract world-class music, theater and dance to the Ojai Valley, Strauss expressed the “build it and they will come” theme, which was heard several times during the evening. Kersnar expressed his opinion that, “I always thought that the argument of the bowl as a business proposition was weak,” but the consensus among the council members was that the bowl is an indelible part of Ojai which has reached a point where it must be rebuilt and to guarantee the pledges it needs to reach completion before the 2011 Festival.” “The opportunities outweigh the risks and I want to go forward,” said Horgan.
With Councilwoman Carol Smith nodding enthusiastically, reminding the council that events at the bowl would bring tourism to Ojai and that the money that comes from T.O.T. (transient occupancy tax) is what the city needs for income, the council came to a unanimous vote to award the building contract.
The vote on the proposed Music Festival lease has been postponed to give council members time to study the provisions of the lease. As it is currently proposed it gives an unprecedented control of a city-owned property to a private entity. The proposed lease of Libbey Bowl to the Music Festival provides a 99-year lease at a rate of $1 per each year of the term. The festival would have 25 days per year lease of the bowl. The June Music Festival would account for a 14-day block with 11 more days reserved annually. The city would also have to refrain from booking any classical music acts into Libbey Bowl during the 30 days prior and after the Musical Festival dates.
Although the review of the proposed lease was postponed, the City Council meeting erupted in cheers, hugs and handshakes at the unanimous vote to award the construction contract.