Grand Junction Avalon Theatre’s future in peril?
FUNDRAISING EFFORT IS ONGOING
Three fundraising campaigns are still happening simultaneously for the Avalon Cornerstone Project.
• 1,000 for $1000 — “We’d end up with $1 million if 1,000 people gave $1,000,” project director Robin Brown said.
• Seat sales — Cost is $2,500 for naming rights of seats, which will be honored with a lobby plaque.
• Naming rights for other areas of the revamped theater. The cost would be anywhere from $10,000 to $3 million.
Plus, “The Last Picture Show” viewing at the Avalon Theatre on Sunday, June 2, will raise funds for the project as well. Tickets are $25 per person online ($30 at the door), and the showing begins at 7:30 p.m.
This Sunday. June 2, marks the end of an era for the 90-year-old Avalon Theatre on Main Street in downtown Grand Junction. After showing its last 35-millimeter film ever — “The Last Picture Show” — as a fundraiser for its crucial reconstruction effort, the Avalon will be shuttered, its future unsure.
“The theater is closed for good to prep for renovations and if the construction contract is not awarded, the city will not reopen the theater,” said Robin Brown, the development director of the Avalon Cornerstone Project. “We are trying to raise public awareness that it might be closed for good and get the public to contact their city council members in support of the Avalon.”
The Avalon Cornerstone Project picked up steam last year to raise funds and orchestrate a revitalization of the city-owned structure. Upgrades are now imperative (like a new roof and air-conditioning), along with making the structure code-compliant (ADA and safety).
“We’re at a major turning point in the history of the theater right now,” Brown said.
A revised plan to update the Avalon will come before Grand Junction’s new City Council first on Monday, June 3, in a planned work session. Then, council will ultimately decide the structure’s immediate future at Wednesday’s scheduled city meeting.
“We have a different council in place than the one under which this project started,” Harry Weiss, the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) executive director, said in an email. “The new council members do not have the depth of familiarity with the project as it has evolved, and so they understandably have lots of questions” to bring them up to speed.
Weiss also noted that council could now choose to revise its approach (like the assumption that the city will continue to own and operate the facility, for instance).
“Moreover, members of council may have fresh ideas to contribute to make the project better, or that uses the project as a launching point for even greater community impact,” Weiss said.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Since April, the Avalon Cornerstone Project hoped to raise another $1.5 million in cash on top of the $7 million it had in total. The City of Grand Junction gave $3 million, and the DDA also committed $3 million. All future donations must come from the private sector.
Brown noted that current fundraising efforts brought cash on hand to approximately $7.1 million. She also recently met with city staffers and FCI (the construction company likely to take on the project) to find ways to reduce costs. At that meeting, Brown said FCI delivered a new option totaling $7.1 million (including soft costs, like architectural design and engineering). That’s down from the original bid, which totaled $8.6 million with soft costs.
“The aim is to bring (the Avalon) up to code without the extra bells and whistles,” she said.
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.
Now, Brown will bring revised options to City Council next week, including a Phase 1 plan without the multipurpose room. By scaling back, repairs to the aging structure can be made within budget and there will still be options for a full build-out in the future.
DECISION MAKERS WEIGH IN
Despite financial concerns, key players in the venture remain hopeful the Avalon Theatre will continue to flourish as a regional stopping point for entertainment across Western Colorado.
And Weiss representing the DDA, an equal partner in the project, believes the city has never been closer to realizing its goal for a revitalized performing arts structure.
“Timing is important,” Weiss said. “Either resources come together for a project or they don’t, and right now the resources are there for a first phase.”
That said, Weiss also stressed that “if you delay all the decisions regarding the project, the funding sources may go away. If the project doesn’t go and the facility is shut down, it will have an immediate negative effect on downtown in terms of dollars and investments.”
GJ City Councilor Jim Doody agreed with Weiss.
“I’d like to see us sign the contract with FCI, move forward and get the renovations done,” he said. “From the Avalon, a delicate weave connects the hundreds of businesses to the convention center. If you were to have either one of those anchors go dark, you would cripple all those businesses and hotels. It would be devastating for downtown business. This whole project is an economic stimulus.”
“I don’t see how shutting something down like that is going to do anyone any good,” Doody added. “Especially when you have a stand-up partner like the DDA.”
Councilor Phyllis Norris also said she’d like to see the Avalon Cornerstone Project realized.
“I’m hopeful that they’ve raised enough money to move forward,” she said.
And though Councilor Martin Chazen still has questions about how the project is being financed, he said he’s going into meetings next week with an open mind.
“I would like to see a project that makes financial and operational sense,” he said.
For more information about the Avalon Cornerstone Project, visit http://www.avalontheatrefoundation.org.
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A crew from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center last week cut disks of wood from trees downed by a powerful avalanche that thundered off Garrett Peak in March 2019. The samples will aid research by dendrochronologists into the epic avalanche cycle.