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June 17, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, June 17, 2005

It's curtains for joint Stanford-Palo Alto performing-arts center It's curtains for joint Stanford-Palo Alto performing-arts center (June 17, 2005)

Vision a victim of economy, officials say

by Jocelyn Dong

The city of Palo Alto isn't going to have Stanford University's partnership in building a snazzy new performing arts center; Stanford has apparently decided to go it alone.

Last week, Stanford's President John Hennessy told the Faculty Senate that the university will launch a new multidisciplinary arts initiative, which includes plans for a state-of-the-art performance space.

But, as reported in the Stanford Report newspaper, Hennessy said the challenges of making the center a joint venture with Palo Alto "probably exceed the benefits."

A shared facility was initially discussed in 1999, when Gary Fazzino was mayor. The city and university funded a study to assess the potential.

Randy Adams, managing director of TheatreWorks, took part in the survey group. He recalled this week that when the study concluded, three facilities were proposed: two on the Stanford campus and one across El Camino Real from the Stanford Shopping Center -- within Palo Alto borders, but on Stanford land.

Potential scheduling conflicts led to the decision to split the facilities.

But the study now appears to have been the final act of the joint planning.

"We have not been contacted (by Stanford) about a decision to move forward. There has been no discussion since late 2000. They haven't come to me and said they were moving forward (alone)," said Palo Alto City Manager Frank Benest.

Although the idea had been approached with enthusiasm, there was never an illusion that it would have been built immediately, Adams said.

"This was all conversation. ...People knew it wasn't going to happen for awhile. There were a lot of other things that were on their plate," he added, including the recently completed town-gown Mayfield Development Agreement that will bring soccer fields and housing to the city.

The economic downturn takes part of the blame for bringing down the curtains on the performing arts project, according to Councilmember Vic Ojakian, one of two council liaisons to Stanford.

Now, he said, "we have more pressing needs and more immediate needs," such as an inadequate police station, short-staffed libraries and a broken storm-drain system. A serious upgrade of the city's Lucie Stern Theatre is not even in the city's capital improvement plans for the next five years.

He defended those who championed the idea of a new theatre complex, even if it won't materialize now.

"Let us dream," he said.

Ojakian downplayed Stanford's apparent decision not to partner with the city.

"There was never anything I know of that was a firm agreement. It was talk. We never reached a point where there was a document where we agreed to proceed," he said.

He cited the Mayfield deal as an example of the city successfully negotiating with the university. "It's not like we're inexperienced at this."

A lack of space has hampered both the city and university for years. Some artists have reportedly declined to perform at Stanford because its facilities are inadequate. Likewise, Palo Alto's spaces are stretched thin.

"Space has been a challenge for years. Part of the reason we perform elsewhere is there isn't enough room in Palo Alto," said Randy Adams, whose group produces its larger shows at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts and smaller works at Palo Alto's Lucie Stern Community Center.

"It doesn't feel like the performing arts are a huge priority in Palo Alto. There's not the same commitment to the arts as in the past," Adams said. "Nobody's against the arts, but the dollars are tight."

In addition to building a performance center, the university's arts initiative will be aimed at establishing a Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts, to link together existing arts and interdisciplinary programs. Officials emphasized that the project is in infancy and likely wouldn't be launched for at least a year.

Hennessy told the Faculty Senate that a new performing arts center would "likely cost more than a football stadium." Recently announced renovations to the Stanford Stadium are pegged at $85 million.

Adams said he wasn't sure that the idea for a new Palo Alto performing arts center is entirely dead. His award-winning, 35-year-old theater company still hopes to build a permanent home for itself somewhere on the Peninsula.

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak contributed to this report. Jocelyn Dong can be reached at jdong@paweekly.com.


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