STALEMATE: No decision made on Avalon Theatre upgrades in Grand Junction
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. The work session previously planned for council to learn about the proposed upgrades was canceled Monday, June 1, because of Councilor Harry Butler’s untimely death over the weekend.
Wednesday’s Grand Junction City Council meeting ended in public uproar after councilors failed to make a decision on the immediate fate of the city-owned Avalon Theatre. A 3-3 vote on whether to enter into a construction contract with FCI for upgrades to the 90-year-old building resulted in a stalemate, essentially leaving the city with little direction while the Avalon continues to stand empty.
City Attorney John Shaver also said a tie vote leaves the city’s previous motion to fund the Avalon Cornerstone Project in place.
The city is stuck, he said. A tie vote simply leaves it at “status quo.”
A full auditorium, filled primarily with Avalon Cornerstone Project supporters, filed out dejectedly near midnight, while a few still remained to take the microphone in hopes of realizing a different outcome.
Steve Thoms, owner of The Winery Restaurant across the street from the Avalon Theatre, was one of those supporters who persisted in addressing council after they adopted a resolution to extend the review period for the project.
After strongly admonishing councilors for stalling on necessary code-related upgrades, Thoms said: “You can’t let Main Street fall apart. It’s the symbol of our community. You can’t give up on it. You can’t let it rot.”
The proposed, bare-bones construction plan featuring new bathrooms and an elevator would have cost $7.1 million (including soft costs), with other options going up in price to $8.2 million. The plan presented to council Wednesday was revised to reflect reduced costs from the original bid of $8.6 million. By not entering into contracts with FCI, city staff warned that expenses would likely increase as the project drags out.
WHAT WENT DOWN WEDNESDAY
Mayor Sam Susuras, Mayor Pro Tem Marty Chazen, and Councilors Jim Doody and Rick Brainard all voiced worry over the Avalon Theatre’s current business model, with Brainard hoping for expanded conversations about the future of the arts in Grand Junction.
Councilor Phyllis Norris said she loved the Avalon Theatre, but was concerned over the timing and financial strain it would place on city coffers.
“Sales tax is down 3 percent,” Norris said. “We can’t afford to do it right now.”
Both Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein and Doody said they wanted to see a construction contract signed, with Brainard initially on the fence.
Susuras noted a disappointment with current fundraising efforts, as well, saying he was concerned the city would be asked to give even more than the $3 million already earmarked.
During a lengthy public comment period, 16 Grand Junction residents spoke in favor of upgrading the Avalon, with two against it. Supporters stressed that funds to revitalize the aging structure would pour in as soon as they were sure the project would actually move forward, while those against it called for conservative measures to protect the city from financial exposure.
In the end, Susuras, Norris and Chazen voted “no” on moving forward with negotiations with FCI, while Boeschenstein, Doody and Brainard said “yes.”
With the stalemate, Norris introduced a resolution for more time to discuss the city’s options. Only Doody and Boeschenstein voted against that measure. Then, council directed city staff to work on a new business model.
Though Brainard said he didn’t think the “numbers are all that bad,” he wanted to see a revised operations plan showing “optimistic” numbers to make council confident in the Avalon’s viability as a business. Throughout the meeting, Chazen continuously questioned the cost versus return of the project, saying he wanted the Avalon to be a money-making venture.
Susuras additionally directed that Norris will be involved in all future negotiations and discussions regarding the Avalon Cornerstone Project going forward. Council will likely meet within the next 7-10 days about the Avalon’s future. The next city council meeting is set for June 19.
In an email Thursday morning, City of GJ Spokeswoman Sam Rainguet said firm dates are not yet in place for a decision to be made about the Avalon Cornerstone Project.
“The approach council will take is still to be determined, and there is currently nothing scheduled in the Avalon for some time,” Rainguet noted.
The Avalon Cornerstone Project picked up steam last year to raise funds and orchestrate a revitalization of the city-owned property at 645 Main St. Upgrades are now imperative (e.g. new roof and air-conditioning), along with making the structure code-compliant (ADA and safety).
Current fundraising efforts have brought available cash to $7.1 million, including $3 million from the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), $3 million earmarked from the city, and another $1 million and change from private fundraising efforts. That was enough to move forward with a reduced “core” project if council had directed staff to do so.
Harry Weiss representing the DDA, an equal partner in the project, said a first phase of improvements “has never been more real and within reach.”
And though it’s just the start to a bigger-picture plan for a performing arts center which began two decades ago, Weiss noted that “if this is all we ever got done, it would be a major improvement over what we have today.”
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