KEN JOHNSON: Imagine a downtown without the Avalon |

KEN JOHNSON: Imagine a downtown without the Avalon

Ken Johnson
Free Press Opinion Columnist

It’s difficult to believe we won’t again see that wonderful smile Harry Butler shared with everyone. Nor the humility and reasonableness — “do the right thing” — that he brought to both the school board and city council. Repeatedly.

We missed him at city council on June 5. Aren’t we all certain, 100%, that had Harry lived to vote on the Avalon Cornerstone Project renovation at the June 5 City Council he would have said “Yes.”

Because he “got it”.

The real value of the Avalon to the city.

Just as Jim Doody, Bennett Boeschenstein and Rick Brainard do. And maybe now the other Council members.

The Avalon is city property, held on behalf of the entire community. The city’s $3 million commitment to this historic and well-used old theatre is already in the city budget. Set aside.

That was a commitment to continue being a good partner with the Downtown Development Authority, and to take care of its own property, the Avalon.

To me, it’s OK to figure out whether we should spend the $7.1 million that’s “in hand,” or spend MORE to do the entire $8.2 million Cornerstone. It’s a bad gamble to do nothing.

The numbers are confusing. What do we get for $7.1 million project and what do we get for $8.2 million? What we know is that the first part of the Avalon rebuilding was expected to cost about $7.1 million. DDA $3 million, City $3 million, Avalon Foundation $1.2 million in cash and pledges and more to come.

The council members are now trying to figure out how to come up with that $1.2 million shortfall.

(Thursday is a DDA workshop where they are supposed to ask if the City throws in another $750,000, will DDA match?) That would do the $8.2 million project.)

To me a BIG question looms: “What happens if the City decides to NOT fund Cornerstone?”

Not to be a doomsday prophet but you only need to look around the country and the answer is “tear it down.”

Just 51 years ago a very smart, gutsy city council with REALLY limited funds put money into rejuvenating Main Street; the downtown merchants, just like DDA today, put money up, too. It was a great partnership.

The alternative then was to say “NO” and watch our crappy and dilapidated downtown (now our social, arts and cultural center) wither away and die.

Imagine, no downtown, just malls!

The City obviously did the right thing. Operation Foresight became a national marvel and a local treasure.

It also changed our “ho hum” attitude about our weathered and dumpy burg from actual disdain to admiration and pride. It engaged our minds and hearts and still does.

A Sentinel editorial Sunday outlined why renovating the Avalon now is so important. Debra Hughes wrote a succinct and focused guest commentary validating how our years of investing in the arts and culture, including the Avalon, pay off every day.

They make Grand Junction “different,” attractive and livable. Just a great place to live.

Imagine no more “Dinner and a Movie.”

Imagine no more Sandstone concerts for sold-out performances like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Imagine no more “Nutcracker Suite” ballets before Christmas, where every District 51 third grader could became enchanted with artistic grace and flowing movement telling a story. FREE.

Imagine no more Charlie Brown’s Christmas, FREE, for grades 1 and above.

Let’s pray the council moves forward on Cornerstone. If not, imagine a sorry, shuttered old building and then a graveled parking lot, sadly welcoming everyone downtown.

Ken is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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