City’s Avalon funding is an example of fiscal responsibility

By Robin Brown

It’s election season again, and the campaign rhetoric is ramping up. Issues that haven’t had any major opposition previously are suddenly mired in controversy as City Council challengers fight to oust incumbents from their seats.

It’s similar to the change that took place in the news industry when it went from the hour-long evening news segments to the 24-hour news channels. Suddenly, they were forced to create issues to fill the time, and this campaign is no different.

The Avalon Cornerstone Project was a non-issue that has morphed, in recent candidate forums, into a “want” instead of a “need” in the fight against wasteful spending. Candidates and citizens alike seem to have forgotten the basics of the project, and since it is scheduled to break ground in about six weeks, let’s review the facts:

It’s easy to say the city of Grand Junction shouldn’t be in the entertainment business. However, the city didn’t go out looking to buy a theater. It was acquired in 1994 in lieu of unpaid taxes. As such, it became a public asset managed by the city in the same way the city manages Two Rivers Convention Center.

Event promoters and local organizations rent the theater for their events. When not in use by renters such as Sandstone Concerts, the Centennial Band and the Downtown Vineyard Church, the city shows movies.

Because it is a city-owned property, by law, it must be ADA compliant and up to code. It is neither, and therefore a huge liability to the city.

The $3 million investment made by the city to bring the Avalon up to code pales in comparison to what it might pay in a lawsuit. It’s also less than half of what the city would have to pay to bring this building up to code if the city were paying for it by itself, which it is not.

What makes this public project unique is the fact that over the past two decades, the Avalon Theatre Foundation has partnered with the city to raise private funding for small renovations such as the facade restoration and the lobby remodel to keep this cultural gem open and operating, thereby saving the city a significant amount of money.

Now, due to liability, maintenance and code issues can no longer be deferred. The Avalon Theatre Foundation, which has raised more than $1 million to date, and the Downtown Development Authority, which committed $3 million, have partnered to help fund a full renovation of the Avalon Theatre. As a result, the city has actually leveraged an additional $1.33 for every $1.00 it has committed from the city budget. Few other public projects enjoy this level of matching private funding.

This community should be incredibly proud that its publicly owned community theater receives such financial support from the community it serves. Incumbents should be touting the fact that a project, which normally would cost them more than $7 million, is costing less than half of that. City owned property. Code requirements. Matching private funding. Sounds like fiscal responsibility to me.

Finally, the first phase of construction is scheduled to break ground in May. If we never raise another dime and we don’t continue with the rest of the project, it will be a much improved facility compared to what we have now.

The city made the necessary investment to bring the Avalon up to code and take care of basic maintenance. Now it’s up to the community to decide if we want to keep investing in this cultural and historic icon.

Future plans include an expanded stage, rooftop terrace and behind-the-scenes amenities such as dressing rooms and storage. With this new capacity, the Avalon could host a wide variety of events that would bring in patrons from across Colorado’s Western Slope.

The Avalon Theatre Foundation is dedicated to the full scope of the project and will continue to work hard to raise private funding to finish the job because we believe that this project will give back to our community for generations to come. Now who wants a pledge form?

Robin Brown is the development director for the Avalon Cornerstone Project, who immensely dislikes politics and believes that investing in arts and culture is vital to our community’s economic future. For more information on the Cornerstone Project, go to http://www.avalontheatrefoundation.org or email Robin at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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