An old idea made new again

An arts center situated on Old Mammoth Road, an idea that has been floating around town for years, reassumed front-burner status this week.

Developer John Vereuck and local architect Bruce Woodward presented the idea before the Planning Commission on Wednesday, saying they could open some of the components in time for summer.

“We need something besides snow in town,” said Vereuck. “We’ve got some major problems. Basically we have to rely on summer, and summer starts in July.”

The proposed arts center would be in a series of spaces in Sherwin Plaza Mall. Currently the structure already has a small theater and a dance studio.

Under the proposal, Vereuck said an empty restaurant space could be a culinary arts facility, while upstairs suites could be converted to meeting rooms, classrooms or whatever else might pop up.

Vereuck acknowledged that he owns one third of the property, but said his strategy is not a personal desperation move.

“We have 12 units there, and all but two of them are rented,” he said.

The pair deliberately called their project an “interim” proposal.

The Mammoth Lakes Foundation already has proposed building an arts center with nearly identical objectives, but no shovel is in the ground yet, and financing remains somewhat elusive.

One day earlier, Vereuck, known for his verbal ripostes, quipped to a reporter, “We can have something going while they (the Foundation) builds their Taj Mahal.”

The reception from the Planning Commission was a warm one, particularly from Mickey Brown, who also is a member of an ad hoc council on economic recovery that is spearheaded by Town Councilman Matt Lehman.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” she said. “We’re really focused on near-term, short-term. If we can use a facility that’s already in existence, I would encourage, if possible, to see what you could do with this facility this summer because our tourists are going to be very important to us.”

The ownership of the building, as well as the operations of an arts center, would almost certainly be a public-private venture, Vereuck said.

“It has to be a public-private ownership of some style. It cannot be run by a private entity. This has to be subsidized. 

“We’ve checked into everything—Los Angeles, Orange County, Santa Barbara. You can’t make this work on a private basis. The simple answer to your question is that it has to be public/private.

“To make this work,” he said, “we have to have one entity run this as far as the operation and productions goes. We have to figure out some kind of a centralized operation that can run this and know what’s going to happen as far as where we’re going with the events.”

Woodward cautioned the commission against being blinded by current economic conditions.

“We can’t plan for something that’s happening right now,” he said. “We’d never ever have what we need. Everybody’s cutting back. 

“This is looking at what we hope to be happening in the future and we have to plan for that.”

Vereuck said the time to strike is ripe.

“We need something right now. Two of the units could be used immediately the theater and the culinary space. Those could be utilized in the next 30 to 60 days.”