City Council continues conversation on fate of the Avalon
THE AVALON CORNERSTONE PROJECT
The original Phase 1 plan, which encompasses the “core” upgrades, went out to bid March 4. That included new seats, expanded seating (from 967 to 1,100), ADA-accessibility upgrades, a multipurpose room with retractable seating, new lighting and sound, upgraded acoustics in the main theater, new digital technology for movie screenings, and a better heating and cooling system. The vacant lot to the east of the theater would house an addition, with a new entrance, a lobby, expanded concessions, new bathrooms on both the first floor and upper mezzanine, and a public elevator to every level. Phase 2 of the project initially aimed to include the completion of the Avalon’s rooftop terrace and an addition across the alley to double the stage size.
A scaled down version of the project to fit within the Avalon’s current budget was presented to council Wednesday, June 5, at a regular council meeting. After a 3-3 vote on whether to move forward with a construction contract, council instead opted to delay its decision until a later date.
Although no decision was made, Grand Junction City Council (along with other key players) met Tuesday, June 11, at a work session to discuss the fate of the Avalon Theatre, which closed for business June 2 in expectation that the city would award a construction contract to FCI.
The Avalon Theatre on Grand Junction’s Main Street is currently in need of facility upgrades — to bring it up to code (ADA and safety) and expand its seating capacity, in addition to other upgrades.
At Tuesday’s work session, council agreed to meet again today (Friday, June 14, at 10 a.m. in the City Hall Auditorium). They also tasked Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Harry Weiss to go to his board with one question: Would they be willing to share the bill (50/50) for expanded funding on a first phase of construction for the Avalon Theatre if private fundraising efforts fell short?
The city council made no commitment on what the DDA’s answer could mean to the project, however. But Councilors Rick Brainard and Phyllis Norris said the more expensive, $8.2 million core build-out was preferable to a scaled-back $7.1 million option if the city were to commit to the upgrade.
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Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein commented that, as a city building, the Avalon needed to be brought into compliance with the ADA (something the city has “aggressively” done for its buildings in the past).
“We need to do everything we can to make it a functional, good building today,” Boeschenstein said.
Mayor Sam Susuras also voiced concern at last week’s meeting and again at Tuesday’s work session about the city being on the hook for additional funding if/when private donations fail to appear.
Currently, both the city and the DDA have dedicated $3 million to Phase 1 of the Avalon revamp, with another $1 million and change from private donors.
Norris, who previously voted against awarding the construction contract, said she could potentially be supportive of the city committing to the Avalon’s “Option A” upgrade — meaning what was originally planned by the architect before the design was cut back to fit a cash-on-hand budget of $7.1 million.
That was after Ron Wilson, a promoter who uses the Avalon, said he could likely bring 10 more bigger-name acts to the facility each year if upgrades made it more appealing to touring artists.
“The better we make this for the artist, the more artists will want to come,” Wilson said.
A CITIZEN-DRIVEN PROJECT
Phase 1’s core project was originally bid out at $8.6 million by FCI, then downsized to $8.2 million with scaled back changes, like the types of materials used in construction. A full build-out would include new seats, expanded seating (from 967 to 1,100), ADA-accessibility upgrades, a multipurpose room, new lighting and sound, upgraded acoustics in the main theater, new digital technology for movie screenings, and a better heating and cooling system.
“I’m not willing to piecemeal the Avalon again,” Norris said, also noting that she doesn’t “feel comfortable going back on a promise” in terms of funding earmarked by the previous city council.
Norris added that she believes the city needs an upgraded performing arts facility, and that she’d personally be willing to donate.
“This has to be a citizen-driven project,” Norris said. “People need to support the foundation.”
The Avalon Cornerstone Project’s Director Robin Brown, along with other theater foundation representatives, stressed that many of its prospective donors would not give money to refurbish the Avalon until they saw a significant city commitment, like a construction contract in hand and ground broken.
Brown said she supported starting on the $7.1 million project because they had the money to do it now, and it would instill confidence in those waiting to promise money to the effort.
Brainard questioned that logic, however, saying that if the money from the city and the DDA is on the table, private donors should feel comfortable that the project is moving forward and step up.
“No one wants to carry the ball,” Brainard said, also commenting that he wanted to see confidence from the fundraisers that they could bring in another $1.1 to 1.5 million to make the “bigger build-out” happen.
Time is of the essence, Weiss also contended, saying the pending construction project is dependent on staying in the good graces of FCI, who so far agreed to remain available to the city until July 26.
There’s significant risk of cost escalation to the funding partners if the project continues to delay, Weiss noted. Who would take on the expanded costs of the delay?
“We need to make a decision,” Norris said before the meeting adjourned.
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