Apolitical Avalon project follows Operation Foresight path

By Robin Brown

Based on his Nov. 21 column in The Daily Sentinel, Rick Wagner sure is mad. He’s mad at the results of the national election. He’s mad at progressives. He’s mad at conservatives. He’s just mad.

And he’s not the only one. This is a conservative community worried about the future of our nation at a time when we feel we have so little influence. So, I completely agree with him that we should turn our focus inward to our own community and get involved where we can affect change instead of focusing on what we can’t do at the national level.

The Avalon Cornerstone Project — the capital campaign to renovate and expand the Avalon Theatre — has nothing to do with politics. It is not a left-versus-right issue. It’s a community issue. It is the next phase of Operation Foresight, the incredibly successful community project completed in 1964 that kept commerce alive downtown and brought national recognition to our community.

Grand Junction became a national example for completing a project unlike any other in the United States, and for doing it without federal money and with the support of the entire community — a feat I would think Wagner would be proud of.

In the words of Joe Lacy, the former city manager who led Operation Foresight, “We didn’t let Operation Foresight become any one person’s or one group’s baby. It was everybody’s baby.”

And so is the Avalon Cornerstone Project. It’s about the city remodeling and upgrading one of its properties to code. Most importantly, it’s about the community coming together to invest in a much-needed addition to bring an historic vaudeville theater into the 21st century, and thus create a cultural, financial and community cornerstone on Colorado’s Western Slope. 

The city bought the Avalon Theatre in the early ‘90s, and in 1996, with the help of the Avalon Theatre Foundation, restored the façade to its former glory, as we see it today. However, it’s not much more than a pretty face, as anyone who’s been inside can tell you.

That’s because the city has been financially limited over the past two decades, and only able to invest in small repairs here and there just to keep it going.

The seats are terribly uncomfortable, the roof needs to be replaced, the HVAC system is noisy and inefficient, and the lighting and sound systems — basic at best — will need to be replaced in the next few years.

Most importantly, the building is not ADA compliant because the building was designed in 1923 to be a vaudeville theater.

There is no backstage, no storage, no dressing rooms or green room. The upper mezzanine has a huge projection room designed when movies were shown on enormous reels. With digital technology, that projection room is obsolete and a waste of space and will be removed to make room for extra seats. The extra seats will put Grand Junction into a better bracket for attracting performers and shows traveling along Interstate 70 from Denver to Salt Lake City.

The Downtown Development Authority, understanding the importance of the Avalon as a Main Street anchor, came forward with $3 million to jumpstart the renovation.

The $3 million the city dedicated to the renovation project was for needed maintenance on a city property, just as it would invest in an ADA upgrade or a new roof to City Hall if needed.

Over the course of the past 10 years, there have been multiple studies done on where the Avalon Theatre fits into our cultural community and how to best maximize its financial impact.

The 2009 feasibility study and the 2010 master plan (available on the city’s website for all to read), lay out the number of user nights available if the renovation were to include an addition, thereby increasing the number of patrons parking, eating, sleeping and shopping in our community.

This addition fills in all the gaps currently missing from a building designed in 1923. Included are dressing rooms, green room, audio/visual control room, storage, loading dock, multipurpose room and, while they’re at it, a rooftop terrace that can be rented out for events under the stars.

It’s maintaining a building that holds a special place in many people’s hearts and making it useable for a wider variety of organizations and performers, while maximizing the number of patrons it will draw to our community.

The Avalon Theatre Foundation, leading the capital campaign, is currently raising the funding needed for the addition and upgrades from private donors, foundations and grants.

The Avalon has provided lasting memories for generations, and our community is coming together to invest in a multi-use facility that will continue to make memories for generations to come. To use Joe Lacy’s words, the Avalon Cornerstone Project is everybody’s baby.

Robin Brown is a local event planner and the development director of The Avalon Cornerstone Project. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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