Visalia awaits offers to buy Creative Center/Ice House Theatre complex

Paul Myers

The city block Creative Center Complex is designated as surplus city property giving affordable housing developers time to issue a proposal to buy it

VISALIA – The city of Visalia is ready to sell their property that hosts both The Creative Center and Ice House Theatre. But it can’t be sold overnight, and some weighty decisions might be on the horizon.

The city council learned that the property at East Race and North Bridge—commonly known as the Creative Center Complex—was appraised for $900,000. Overall, it spans a little over three acres and consumes the entire block.

Assistant city manager, Leslie Caviglia said the city does not have much use for the property since deciding to place the public works yard on Ben Maddox. Both the Creative Center and Ice House Theatre are on the property, along with several homes.

Caviglia said added that because the city owns the property there is some added regulation that comes with improving facilities.

“It also just becomes more complex for the entities that are leasing,” Caviglia said. “…if they want to make any improvements, that must be by prevailing wage, it must go through all the city purchasing requirements…and it just becomes very complex and convoluted for organizations that are trying to operate a somewhat on a shoestring [budget].”

Ultimately the council voted in favor of designating the property a “surplus property” per state law, at their April 5 meeting.

Because of state law the city cannot simply appraise and sell the land to tenants currently there, or other developers. According to a city staff report on the item the city must go through the “state required disposition process.” The report states that the city must solicit proposals for 60 days and offer applicable entities the ability to negotiate before a private developer can apply.

An applicable entity would be an agency whose purpose is to develop low- and moderate-income housing, or an entity seeking to establish the property as a park. Short of that, Caviglia said, after 60 days other commercial developers could submit proposals if the city council wanted to accept them.

The staff report states that the property was “enhanced” using federal community development block grant (CDBG) funds. If the city managed to sell the property they would need to “reimburse” a balance of $175,000, but the remainder would be used at the discretion of the council.

The two most well known tenants on the property are the Creative Center and the Visalia Players. According to the city’s staff report the Creative Center creates programming for up to 100 developmentally challenged adults, and leases their facility for $1 per year through 2030. The Visalia Players use the Ice House Theatre to put on between eight and 10 productions a year. They do not currently have a lease with the city for the theater.

President of Visalia Players, Karl Schoettler said it would be unfortunate for the property to sell to another entity instead of to the Creative Center of his agency. Schoettler said the Visalia Players have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in to the theater to maintain it. And with so much invested he would rather not have to leave the theater. But he added that he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“I think [the city is] going to consider that we’re both nonprofit organizations. And again, we’ve put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the property over the years, and so I think they’ll take that into consideration and ideally, make us a deal we can’t refuse,” Schoettler said.

The Visalia Players, like many other performing groups, were deeply affected by the pandemic. Schoettler said that the organization was forced to draw from their savings account to make ends meet over the last 13 months.

“We’re definitely going to have to ramp up and do some fundraising activities here sooner rather than later,” Schoettler said.

In an attempt to stay as relevant as possible in 2020 the Visalia Players made broad attempts to appeal to theater lovers over social media. Around Christmas time they asked the community for donation. Fortunately, they gathered between $4,000 and $5,000.

When it comes to negotiations with the city over a new lease Schoettler said that discussions are preliminary.

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