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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 3:37 pm | Fair 62º


Former Church Property Emerges as Top Spot for Isla Vista Community Center

Santa Barbara County-owned building eyed as ideal location to fulfill committee recommendation to begin nurturing community relations

The former St. Athanasius Orthodox Church at 976 Embarcadero Del Mar in the heart of Isla Vista could become a community center. The property is owned by Santa Barbara County and needs about $250,000 in renovations. Click to view larger
The former St. Athanasius Orthodox Church at 976 Embarcadero Del Mar in the heart of Isla Vista could become a community center. The property is owned by Santa Barbara County and needs about $250,000 in renovations. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Establishing a community center in Isla Vista has long been a goal of residents, but the front-runner building remains vacant in the heart of the area it would serve.

A recently released report revisited the longtime goal, when the UCSB Foundation Trustees’ Advisory Committee on Isla Vista Strategies recommended — among two dozen other suggestions — creating a community center and accompanying programming in Isla Vista to improve its viability and safety in the wake of violence and tragedy earlier this year.

Standing dormant at 976 Embarcadero Del Mar in the community west of UC Santa Barbara is the former St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, which Santa Barbara County owns, along with nearby buildings housing the Isla Vista Medical Clinic and a public parking lot.

The county fought to acquire the buildings after the State of California dissolved redevelopment agencies, including the Isla Vista RDA that battled blight and owned the three buildings.

State finance officials gave in, and now the church is the community’s last-ditch effort to establish a community center in the near future — with just $250,000 in renovations standing in the way, according to Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents Isla Vista.

“The community rallied around those efforts,” Farr said, noting local governments and agencies also helped by agreeing not to sell off the buildings. “The whole dissolution of the RDA was not good for Isla Vista. I work really hard, and I think this board has been really supportive. It was a long process to get where we are now.”

Leftover RDA money funded renovations for a part of the clinic building, where the county hopes to house organizations providing more resources to Isla Vista.

Farr said county general services has collected applications from several organizations, and will bring those candidates before the Board of Supervisors for approval in February.

Vying for space is the Isla Vista Youth Projects Inc., UCSB Associated Students and more. Tenants could be up and running by spring.

“The services provided there would be provided to the widest range of population in the community as possible,” Farr said. “It’s very exciting. That’s kind of the short-term work we’re doing. Long term, I think it’s exciting because the two properties are contiguous.”

Where community center renovation funds would come from, nobody was quite sure.

Dan Burnham, retired Raytheon CEO and a member of the trustee committee, said the community center seemed a solid way to reinforce that Isla Vista is a community.

“Finding the money is a whole different issue,” he said. “This is just sort of putting the ball up on the tee. Now the really hard work has to take place. The system cannot stay as it is. We’re trying to provoke thought.

“We can’t allow the Isla Vista situation to get in the way of that reputation for excellence. There’s a lot at stake here.”

Right now, groups such as the UCSB Associated Students host larger meetings at Santa Barbara Hillel, 781 Embarcadero Del Mar, or similar locations, said AS president Aly Guthy, who called the non-neutral gathering places “awkward.”

Farr said providing a place for a community to assemble was a main function of government.

Locals could launch a capital campaign, she said, or ask for help from the university.

If worse comes to worse, Farr said she could ask the board for county budget funding in June.

“I’m hopeful I won’t have to wait that long,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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