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The Community Media Center of the North Bay would close at the end of June and eventually be reborn as an innovative partnership under a proposal heading to the Santa Rosa City Council today.

Citing its tight budget, city staff had planned to cut off funding for the nonprofit center at the end of the month. The center opened in 1997 to broadcast public meetings, manage public access television channels and provide video production training to residents.

But after dozens of residents last month pleaded for a way to preserve the public access provided by the media center, the council agreed to take a closer look at the issue.

City officials now propose giving the center three additional months of funding before ending the current operation, which they say lacks innovation in an era of smartphones and YouTube. The nonprofit employs about eight people who work in city-rented space and use city-owned equipment.

In its place, Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips proposes the city temporarily directly manage the broadcast of government meetings of the City Council, Planning Commission and Board of Public Utilities.

Unlike the previous plan, which called for the creation of a permanent media coordinator position with a salary of up to $80,000 per year, the new arrangement would mean hiring an information technology technician paid slightly less money -- up to $75,000 -- for just 18 months.

Management of the education channel would be turned over to education institutions, such as Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College or Santa Rosa High School. The video production equipment would be placed in storage and the center itself on the grounds of the high school would be returned to the Santa Rosa School District.

Finally, the public's access to video production equipment and studio space will go on "hiatus" after the center shuts down June 1. This means residents who produce programs with names like "Galactic Messenger," "Inappropriately Touched By My Government" and "Laurie and the Monkey Wizard" will have to find a new way to reach their audiences until early next year.

Over the spring, the city envisions gathering feedback from the public, using two public hearings and an online forum to gather ideas and suggestions.

"We're really excited about it. It's going to be a great opportunity to find out what our community really wants for a media center," said Eric McHenry, the city's chief technology officer. By summer, the city would hold discussions with organizations interested in providing public media access services, including government agencies and educational, nonprofit and social service groups.

Organizations that have expressed interest include the Sonoma County Museum, KRCB North Bay Public Media, the Community Foundation and the Arts Council.

Phillips envisions these groups could be "brought together as a consortium to create, fund and manage a community media lab."

In the fall, the city would try to identify a site for the lab, determine how it would be funded and who the partners would be, with specifics nailed down by winter.

Then, in early 2014, a new media center would open with a focus on reactivating the public access channel, later integrating the government and education channels into the operation.

One group expected to make a strong pitch is the Sonoma County Museum, which is preparing for an expansion into the former Conklin Brothers flooring store at Seventh and B streets.

Executive Director Diane Evans said the rear of the building will provide art gallery space while the portion facing the street will be a "new media, art and education center."

The city's cost of funding center operations for another three months is $75,000. The city also would need to spend $49,300 to prepare for the July transition, including paying for an information technology technician, part-time camera operators, equipment repair and closed-captioning.

The city long has been the main source of funding for the center, but has sought to reduce its contributions. The most recent one-year contract for the center cut operating funds for from $660,000 to $300,000.

Phillips said it is too soon to say how much money the city would be willing to contribute toward a new media center.

The city's costs to produce the government broadcasts alone are estimated at $190,000 per year.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater.

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