An Irvine-based church known as Newsong is close to buying the Santora Arts Building in downtown Santa Ana, according to several sources. But there seems to be confusion over exactly how close.
Tom Greer, who identified himself as an accountant associated with the church, said in a brief interview outside the Santora Monday afternoon that the sale is in escrow and that it could take a few months. But then Mike Harrah, the Santora's current owner, who was also at the building Monday, denied that any sale had reached that stage. He too would not comment further.
What also remains unclear is exactly how church leaders plan to use the building if they indeed end up buying it. A Facebook post from Newsong Lead Pastor Dave Gibbons gives the impression that the church will be looking for more than just rent from the building, which is already creating some controversy.
In his post, Gibbons called the Santora “an effective and efficient training space for equipping the next wave of misfit leaders especially artists, business people, and community development specialists.” The post goes on to say that church leaders “will consider the development of a 300+ seat meeting facility that could accommodate weekend services as well as training during the week.”
“Though we've had a presence and relationships in Santa Ana for years, we want to go deeper,” the post continues. “We firmly believe Santa Ana's Artist Village will be a key cultural hub for influence and leadership development beyond Orange County!”
Finally, the post divulged that the church is paying $6.2 million for the building.
According to a profile of the church and Gibbons published by OC Weekly, the church is targeting “misfits” that are supposed to change the world. Gibbons created a nonprofit consulting group called Xealots, which is “to identify and equip the next generation of socially conscious leaders,” the profile reported.
The church also helps aid the poor, according to OC Weekly, providing burritos and laundry service to homeless people.
Tim Rush, who sits on the advisory board of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society, reacted to the potential sale with indignation.
“It's absolutely wrong,” Rush said. “I'm as mad as I've ever been.”
Rush was particularly incensed at the notion that the church might build a meeting facility in the building. “I just say, shame on you, Mike Harrah, that you would put at risk and destroy an architectural landmark in the city,” Rush said.
Harrah has put both the Santora and the building on First Street that houses his Original Mike's restaurant up for sale to raise money for the construction of One Broadway Plaza, a planned 37-story commercial tower near the downtown core.
Rush said he nominated Harrah for a preservation award, “and I will be happy to sign my name to a petition to strip him of that award,” he said.
That this church might take over the Santora makes a recently expired contract between Harrah and the city that requires him to designate 80 percent of the space it rents for the arts loom large. The agreement expired last October, leading some artists to fear that they would be squeezed out of the building.
Councilman David Benavides, whose family has attended the church for 10 years, gave the impression that the concerns of Rush and the artists are unwarranted. Benavides said that the church values art and that the arts will likely remain a component of the building.
“I know that they are very much interested in preserving the arts component, and that's part of what actually drew them,” Benavides said. “They're a genuine, down-to-earth group of folks. Wherever they go, they've very much committed to supporting that community.”