Council adds to Avalon pot, OKs $3 million

The Grand Junction City Council committed $3 million on Wednesday toward bringing the Avalon Theatre to modern entertainment and basic operating standards.

The move sets the stage for an eventual $12 million to $14 million upgrade of the intersection of Main and Seventh streets that officials said they hoped would draw applause — and big money.

The council, which on Monday said it would consider a $1 million commitment to the project, then $2 million, ­upped the ante to cover nearly half the cost of the needed basic improvements.

“I think it’s a stimulus” for economic development of the downtown area, Councilman Jim Doody said in moving that the council commit $3 million to the project.

Councilwoman Teresa Coons agreed, noting that the city as the owner of the building has a responsibility to keep it up.

The Avalon, built in 1923, is showing its age, officials said. Its heating and cooling system is nearly shot, its restrooms are adequate but inaccessible, it falls short of requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the seating is “inefficient, ineffective and uncomfortable,” said Debbie Kovalik, who oversees management of the Avalon and other city enterprises.

The Downtown Development Authority has earmarked $3 million already for the project, leaving $1 million to complete the “core” improvements.

The full project, however, comes with a price tag of $12 million to $14 million and includes an east wing that will have the Avalon taking up the entire southwest corner of the intersection. Plans envision a rooftop terrace and a doubling of the stage from 1,500 square feet to 3,000 square feet, the addition of 150 seats and other changes.

The project, said Harry Weiss, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, is a package deal. It won’t go forward without a commitment to completion, Weiss said.

The first, or core phase, however, could break ground in April 2013 and open a year later. Officials then could consider a schedule for the remainder of the project.

Already there is private-sector interest in contributing to the project, including the possibility of the city selling naming rights to the project, Kovalik said.

The motion to commit $3 million to the project passed 4-2, with Doody, Coons, Bennett Boeschenstein and Mayor Bill Pitts voting favor, and Laura Luke and Tom Kenyon opposed.

Kenyon said he feared a large contribution from the city would lessen the sense of urgency that supporters need to collect contributions. Luke said she harbored doubts about the city’s ability to come up with the funding, though she agreed the project was needed.

If the council were to approve the project, “I’ll understand why,” though, Luke said.

The Avalon, Boeschenstein said, “is a great old opera house that we need to invest in.”

Though expensive, the Avalon project is likely to pay off, Pitts said, adding “You’ve got to spend some money to make some money.”

The Avalon project so far has garnered more than $500,000 in private donations and a $100,000 commitment from the Avalon Theatre Foundation Board.

The city has owned the building since 1994, when it bought the building for $200,000.


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