There’s no record of Drew Barrymore having visited Grand Junction, but her great-aunt, Ethel Barrymore, lit up the stage of the Avalon Theatre downtown back when the Avalon was on a national entertainment circuit and Ethel was the Meryl Streep of the day.
Long before people thought in such ways, Ethel Barrymore had a catchphrase, one that she dropped to the delight of audiences around the world, including, presumably, at the Avalon: “That’s all there is — there isn’t any more.”
For the rest of the 20th century, “That’s all there is — there isn’t any more” might as well have been the watchword for the Avalon as it slipped out of the limelight, became a movie theater and fell further and further behind the entertainment times.
Soon, though, if supporters of the Avalon’s evolution into a modern performing-arts center can gather up the cash, theatergoers can remember Ethel Barrymore’s catchphrase more as a crowd-pleaser than an unintended prophecy.
Far from no more, a planned renovation of the Avalon promises much, much more.
Much more, however, doesn’t come cheap.
Renovating the Avalon to the extent depicted on this page by the architectural firm of Westlake Reed Leskosky is a $14 million proposition, one that is divided into two phases, “core” and “build-out.”
The “core” improvements, costing $7 million, are nearly paid for with the decision last month of the Grand Junction City Council to earmark $3 million toward renovating the Avalon. The Downtown Development Authority already has decided to bond for $3 million toward the project. Those amounts, combined with pledges and donations, leave the core phase with $1 million still needed. After that, it’s all up to the campaign cabinet that is about to launch a $7 million fundraising effort aimed at individuals, corporations and foundations.
For all the big numbers, perhaps the most important one is relatively small: 150.
That’s roughly the number of seats to be added in the renovation, bumping the seating capacity up from the current 937.
“1,100 is when you hit the sweet spot” that many musical acts search out when setting their routes across the country, said Harry Weiss, executive director of the DDA.
That’s the minimum number of seats that bands need to meet their costs and allow them to set ticket prices they know their fans will pay, Weiss said.
While it’s largely a matter of numbers to get on that map, the build-out phase includes some of the features that can attract groups back, Weiss said.
Amenities include a green room, convenient loading areas, backstage areas for the crew and so on, Weiss said.
At build-out, the relatively small 1,500-square-foot stage will double, making it large enough to hold 200 musicians for a full-scale concert, as well as being big enough to host a Broadway traveling production, Weiss said.
Building out the project will not only add seats, but also improve sightlines to the stage, he said.
The project isn’t just about the stage, however.
The core phase of the project also includes adding a multipurpose room on the east side of the building. Construction of the new room would also add new restrooms, concession areas and elevators to the main building, but the key advantage is that the addition would allow for the Avalon to remain constantly open, even during construction.
One element of the design, a third-floor open-air terrace atop the multipurpose room and eastern extension, could host everything from corporate gatherings to weddings. At 2,400 square feet, it could accommodate as many as 300 people and, Weiss noted, is available to be sponsored.
The multipurpose room is being designed to host a variety of events, Weiss said, noting that it could host a breakfast meeting in the morning, a business meeting during the day and a movie at night.
It also would allow the city to “bookend” Main Street and coordinate activities with Two Rivers Convention Center, he said.
Coordinated events could have convention-goers walking up and down along Main Street’s shops and restaurants, he said.
The opportunity to parlay programs, plays and other events at the Avalon is the key to making the project work, Weiss said. Attracting large numbers of people downtown who also will shop or eat at restaurants, and thus contribute to the revenue the DDA plans to use to pay off its $3 million bond, are at the heart of the strategy.
A thriving Avalon could be the catalyst for development nearby, including the building that once housed the Cabaret dinner theater and the empty lot once planned for a high-rise building, Weiss said.
Those kinds of opportunities wouldn’t exist if a new stand-alone performing-arts center were to be built from scratch, Weiss said. Such a project would cost about $20 million and that doesn’t count land costs, utilities and other expenses, he said.
Plans now call for a capital campaign to run through December with a bid award by March and construction starting in April. If all goes as planned, the renovated Avalon would open in April 2014.
That’s some five years ahead of the original plan, Weiss said, noting that the original schedule called for the DDA to match contributions up to $3 million and to begin work in 2017.
An environment of low interest rates and limited construction demand, however, encouraged the authority to commit $3 million immediately in hopes of sparking enthusiasm — and contributions, Weiss said.
The Avalon is in an enterprise zone, allowing contributors to use their contributions to reduce their state income taxes.
Once a stop along the way for traveling entertainers, band and troupes, the Avalon was the Grand Junction link in a national chain of theaters.
Now it’s a regional draw, not a Grand Junction venue, but a western Colorado attraction, something no community west of the Rockies or east of Salt Lake City can match, Weiss said.
“The seed has been planted,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to step up.”