Some say theater, gallery would be too small to serve
Diverse crowd at last input session on arts center draft
An alarm rang out amidst the most recent public planning session for an arts and civic center after an attendee tried to slip out early through a back door of Madera South High School’s library.
After the foiled exit and a sheepish return, the meeting continued. But a few more participants had already sounded alarms of their own, whether true or false. They worried that plans for an arts gallery and performing arts theater would lead to facilities too small to meet local needs. The largest theater would seat 500 and a dedicated art gallery for special collections was 1,165 square feet.
“I’m really excited that we’re getting a theater, because that has been one of my biggest problems here in Madera — that we don’t have a venue large enough to bring people from out of town,” said Cecilia Rios, artistic director for Ballet Folkorico de Madera and a performer for 40 years.
Rios said she has to take her dance productions to 2,000-seat Warnors Theater in downtown Fresno, “and it saddens me because I have to put (on) shows over there … Right now we have sold over a thousand tickets just doing a big production through middle schools in Fresno.”
She recommended upping the theater’s capacity to 800 seats.
“The rationale was in this area — Fresno, Clovis, Madera — there are a number of venues that are in that 700-800 seat range,” said Paul Halajian, owner-operator of Clovis-based Paul Halajian Architects. “So the thought was instead of creating yet another one there might be a niche in the marketplace for something slightly smaller than that.”
A future study by an economist may cause them to reconsider that plan depending on its results, Halajian said.
“I’m suggesting there’s not nearly enough gallery space,” said James Glynn, board of directors president for Madera County Arts Council. “We have something like 1,400 square feet right now (in the Circle Gallery), and we’ve totally outgrown that.”
More than half of the arts and civic center’s planned 15,549-square-foot lobby would double as an art gallery as well, architect Shaunt Yemenjian pointed out.
“It’s not secure,” said Pamela Beecher, former executive director of the council. “The Madera County Arts Council has thousands of dollars worth of artwork. You can’t put it in the hallway for events. It would all have to be moved.”
At the start of the meeting, arts council board member Julia O’Kane offered an overview of the downtown Madera project, nicknamed DoMa.
“We’re looking at a site downtown. We’re looking at … the old old brick library (neighboring the current library). We’re looking at demolishing what used to be Lincoln School and then was the courthouse, and putting the performing arts theater there and banquet facilities and several other kinds of things in that building. We’re looking at cleaning up the park going into downtown, and looking at how downtown can improve itself. So that we can have an active community civic center area.”
In the cultural arts center, a banquet area with a catering kitchen would seat 550. A central courtyard could hold at least another 300 diners, if overflow is desired. A second lecture hall or recital theater could seat a couple hundred people. An audio-visual media studio, restaurant, classroom, offices, meeting rooms, storage and art studio would also be part of the building as drafted.
An enriched pavement would connect courtyards in front of the new arts center and the historic courthouse museum. Memorial Courthouse Park would be split in two by a tree-lined promenade connecting the new arts and civic center to the Madera County Superior Courthouse and Elks Lodge. An open fundraising garden would sit in the park between the museum and State Route 99, while a possible food park with outdoor seating would be between the museum and the promenade.
A greenway in a former alley would offer a minipark area in downtown Madera that would lead pedestrians part of the way to Memorial Courthouse Park while also being an opportunity for surrounding businesses.
Former trucker David Simpson expressed concern that plans to narrow Yosemite Avenue to provide room for easier parking, wider sidewalks, pocket patios, tables, street lighting and landscaping would be problematic for truck drivers who rely on the wide road to access State Route 41 and mountain communities.
Yosemite Avenue, also known as State Route 145, is a major traffic artery for the city of Madera, according to the county’s 2011 Regional Transportation Plan. The road and bridge are maintained by the state’s highway agency, Caltrans. Five percent of its average of 11,100 daily commuters in 1998 consisted of trucks, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, and total daily traffic was then predicted to roughly double by 2032.
City Councilman Will Oliver said the state has indicated willingness to pass control and maintenance of Yosemite Avenue (SR 145) back to the city.
One attendee suggested including infrastructure in the project for free wireless Internet access in the downtown area to help attract pedestrians and potential customers.
Also suggested was that the city take advantage of federal and state laws that permit local governments to require public access channels, equipment, services, facilities, and funding from local cable television companies. This would help fund the media studio at the arts center and help locals, government, schools, churches and more to create and broadcast videos on cable TV. Fresno and Clovis jointly have such an agency, CMAC, but Madera has none.
The draft for the DoMa project will be refined in the months ahead, O’Kane said. “The next time we see it (this summer) is pretty much going to be the final concept of what all of this could look like. Things are going pretty well.”