Opinion: Making new memories at Avalon Theatre | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Making new memories at Avalon Theatre

Robin Brown
Free Press Opinion Columnist

When I was first hired as the development director of the Avalon Theatre Foundation a little more than two years ago, I immersed myself in the economic data that made the Avalon an important public project. Numbers drove the case statement — the direct and indirect revenue that was created when people attended events at the historic theater, the dollars generated from construction, the needed boost to sales tax revenues, etc. Multiple city council work sessions focused on the business plan, staffing and utility costs, and the return on investment for the city’s portion of funding. All partners involved — the city of Grand Junction, the Downtown Development Authority, and the Avalon Theatre Foundation — did their due diligence.

We made the rounds of the local civic clubs with presentations about the project. We also opened the theater to the public — giving tours to show just how lacking the theater was in performer and patron amenities, which in turn limited the ability to turn a profit. We wrote editorials and created brochures to explain all the numbers to the public, as well as created a website to present the data. And, as the valley continued to slog through the recession, our numbers represented a bright spot in the future; it showed that the Avalon was a needed economic driver — bringing people from out of their homes to see shows, stay in our hotels, and eat in our restaurants — and it could be used as a tool to help recruit needed professionals and new businesses to a community that appeared from the outside to be a cultural desert. The theater was well-used, too: 433 events in 2012! Over 60,000 patrons! The renovations will increase attendance by an estimated 54 percent resulting in an annual indirect income of $1-2 million to local business! The data was clear. Construction was approved. And the renovation began.

Now I’m not sure that the numbers ever mattered.

Woven in and out of those presentations, editorials, and tours, people would nod and smile over the numbers and then begin to tell me their favorite memories from the Avalon. I’ve been stopped in the streets and while eating in restaurants so that people could tell me their stories. I have a windowsill full of notes from people with fond memories of the Avalon. Little girls dancing on the stage, first dates and stolen kisses on the balcony, once-in-a-lifetime performances, lines wrapped around the block for opening night of Star Wars, and at least one woman who went into labor during a show. It’s 90 years of memories created in a simple brick theater.

The story of the Avalon began to evolve. These people and their memories stood out as bright spots in the slog of important economic data and slowly began to take center stage. The business plan began to fade in importance and the oral history of the people of this community became the star attraction. The Avalon was much more than bricks and mortar and return on investment; it was a living, breathing history of a community.

When I first met the Avalon’s historian, Diann Admire, now in her 80s, she told me she had danced on the stage when she was 5 years old. A few days later, I was invited to my son’s elementary school to talk about my job for career day. As I sat in front of a room full of wiggly 6 year olds, I asked if any of them had ever been to the Avalon Theatre. One little girl’s hand shot up. When I called on her, she excitedly told me that she had danced on the stage when she was 5 years old. The same exact memory 75 years apart. This is what will keep the Avalon going long after our economic data is old and tired.

And here we are, two weeks from the Avalon Theatre’s Grand Reopening. The foundation is immersed in preparations, which includes donor recognition. I have long lists of names of people who gave of their time and money — people who have loved and fought for the Avalon Theatre for decades. A few people wrote large checks to make this project possible, and a lot of people wrote small checks. People who couldn’t write checks volunteered. I have donations from as far away as Maryland and Florida.

Diann Admire wrote every single donor a personal thank you note, including my son, Hank, who gave $7 out of his Lego fund. This past weekend, people came out of the woodwork to pour beer at the Avalon Theatre Beer Garden during the Grand Junction Off-Road. We received loads of applications from performing arts groups anxious to be a part of the Grand Opening celebrations.

The Avalon Theatre doesn’t just belong to the people; it is the people. Without those memories, it was just an old brick building with uncomfortable seats. Because of those memories, it is now a state-of-the-art performing arts center prepared to create memories for generations to come.

I invite you all to join us at the Avalon Theatre Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 10:30 a.m. for the “film” cutting ceremony followed by an open house from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. I humbly thank all of you who, through your memories, have given the Avalon Theatre life. It’s why we live here.

When not fundraising for the Avalon Theatre, Robin Brown coordinates special events for downtown Grand Junction. She’d like to hear why you live here. Contact her at robin@westslopeevents.com.

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