Avalon Theatre is the ballpark of our cultural community
Colorado ranks fifth in the nation for concentration of creative talent. Only New York, California, Massachusetts and Vermont place higher, according to a “State of Colorado’s Creative Economy” report by the Alliance for Creative Advantage (based in South Carolina).
So significant are the creative enterprises that they make up the fifth-largest employment sector in Colorado’s economy.
Our cultural amenities are increasingly attracting innovators, businesses and tourists — and they all bring dollars and jobs to our state’s cultural arts destinations.
But Mesa County isn’t as high on that list as it could and should be. That’s despite our burgeoning wine country, nationally renowned Art on the Corner program and world-class outdoor adventure opportunities.
How do we engage, capitalize on and ride the Colorado creative wave?
The Grand Junction City Council’s recent decision to add $3 million to the Downtown Development Authority’s $3 million to fund a $14 million renovation of the Avalon Theatre is a bold move in that direction.
Harry Weiss, director of the DDA, told me back in May that the Grand Valley has to commit to being a cultural arts destination if we are to fully realize the advantages that means to a local economy.
We have theater, a symphony, Broadway-style musicals, poets, writers and a wealth of artists, performers and musicians right here. But we’re sorely lacking in venues, despite dedicated efforts to do the best we can with what we have.
Oh sure, I’d love to see a brand-spanking-new performing arts complex on any of a number of large vacant lots in our community. But unless I missed the news flash, nobody has yet stepped up to offer the $40 million to $80 million it would require to build such a facility. It is one thing to want something grand and expensive and quite another to pay for it.
Over the years, I’ve heard more than a few people refer to the Avalon as a “money pit.” But I’ve noticed that previous “fixes” to the historic theater have been rather minimal, never really solving the structural, accommodation and amenity needs identified by patrons and performers.
The current plans call for a complete and total renovation that addresses those needs, from a larger stage to accessible restrooms to — yes — comfortable seats and more to make the theater more usable and therefore more viable.
Maybe those in our community who could fund a megamillion-dollar complex are merely waiting to see whether and how we can support a smaller, yet distinctive venue before committing to a larger one. There are shows and performers eager to grace the stage, local and tourist audiences ready to fill the seats.
A completely renovated Avalon can be our proving ground, our next step in joining the official ranks of Colorado’s cultural arts destinations — and in reaping all the economic benefits that come along with such a distinction.
It’s understandable that not everyone is enchanted with the idea of updating the Avalon. Could be that in years past, the timing wasn’t right for such an ambitious project. But how many years did we hear talk of renovating Suplizio Field? The timing wasn’t right earlier.
Leonardo da Vinci drafted a conception of the helicopter in the 16th century, but obviously the timing, the technology and the political climate were not conducive to bringing it to realization. Dr. R. Finley Hunt designed and built a scale model of a flying machine during the Civil War, but the steam engine was just too heavy. The timing wasn’t right. For hundreds of years, men kept trying to build flying machines, and a lot of people got tired of hearing about such ridiculous nonsense. Until, of course, the timing was right.
The timing is right for our community to have a quality performing arts venue, and it doesn’t have to be grandiose and new. In fact, a historic building is frequently more intriguing and attractive than a shiny, ultra-modern facility. We are lucky to have the Avalon Theatre as a foundation from which to build a state-of-the-art, structurally sound performing arts center for a heck of a lot less than constructing a new one.
And for those who think we can’t be a cultural arts destination and an energy community, the fact is that the two go hand in hand. Shoot, some of the biggest financial supporters of the Houston Symphony are Cameron Exploration, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil and Shell. (I’ve heard some fine baritones in the oil patch over the years, let me tell you.)
The Suplizio Field renovation has already had direct and indirect economic impact on our community and it will for years to come. We didn’t need to build a brand-new ballpark across town.
The time is now for the Avalon. Let’s give it a chance to shine, to be the cultural gem it was always meant to be. We are part of Colorado’s enviable creative economy. We can stake our claim as a cultural arts destination and reap all the benefits that go with it.