Council splits on Avalon vote
Grand Junction city councilors dropped the curtain, at least for now, on spending their previously promised $3 million to remodel the Avalon Theatre.
During a Wednesday night marathon meeting that last until nearly midnight, Councilors Jim Doody and Bennett Boeschenstein supported spending the $3 million that they and other prior councilors had allocated to the project.
Councilors Sam Susuras, Phyllis Norris, Rick Brainard and Marty Chazen voted to suspend a decision to spend the money for 10 days as councilors again reviewed the information.
“Our sales tax is down 3 percent,” Norris said. “I have to look at it and say we can’t afford to do this right now. This is not the right time to do this project. I think we need to go back and figure out how we can make this happen.”
A crowd of mostly supporters for a remodeled theater packed city council chambers and sat through nearly three hours of unrelated topics before presenting their arguments during the long-winded meeting.
Votes for a pared-down project, which would have included a $7.1 million first phase to include bare-bones upgrades of bathrooms on both levels and an elevator, deadlocked in a tie vote. Councilor Jim Doody suggested that the late councilor Harry Butler had planned to vote to go ahead with the project. Butler passed away on Sunday.
Before the meeting, the Avalon Theatre Foundation had combined commitments of about $6 million from the city’s former City Council and Grand Junction’s Downtown Development Authority to jump-start the project’s first phase.
Comments by Councilor Marty Chazen that the revenue generated on the larger and most expensive option for the theater wouldn’t recoup the investment were misguided, some Avalon supporters contended.
“Please just remember this is for the whole city, not just for making money like a casino,” pleaded Bobbi Alpha, a board member of the Avalon Theatre Board Foundation.
At least two factors threw a kink into plans for the first phase of Avalon’s remodel project. Construction costs from the lowest bidder, FCI Constructors, came in at $1.5 million over anticipated budget. Also, fundraising efforts by the Avalon Theatre Foundation have come in at less than anticipated, although supporters insist more dollars will flow to the project once construction gets under way. The fundraising project has raised $1 million, but those contributions are spread over the next few years.
“We have raised $1 million,” said Robin Brown, development director of the fundraising effort, The Avalon Cornerstone Project. “We’re not done fundraising. We’ve just begun.”
A total project cost for all stages of the Avalon is expected to be $15 million to $16 million.
In the last few months, Grand Junction city staff have worked with project architect Chamberlain Architects to trim down some of costs, paring back the scope of the project.
Daniel Gartner, principal architect of Chamberlain Architects, said on Wednesday night that his company, over the years, has completed 15 projects at the Avalon to help the ailing facility.
Grand Junction, with the help of the Downtown Development Authority, purchased what was the Cooper Theater in 1994 for $200,000. It was managed by the Downtown Development Authority through 2002.
“This is an opportunity to bring this project to a place it’s always wanted go and now has a chance to go,” Gartner said before councilors pushed the decision down the road.