Future of Grand Junction’s ‘crown jewel’ is uncertain

The city of Grand Junction, whether it wants to be or not, is the proprietor of Main Street’s two anchors. At the west end of the heart of downtown is Two Rivers Convention Center, a much-used facility that is home to service clubs, various annual banquets, trade shows and conventions. One gets the impression that making Two Rivers pay for itself is a never-ending struggle for the city.

At the other end is the crown jewel of the urban landscape in western Colorado’s premier city. The Avalon Theatre is also owned by the city. It is home to movies, concerts and the occasional theatrical performance. There’s no doubt the city struggles with making that historic building pay its own way. One sometimes gets the impression that the city would rather not be involved with the Avalon at all. It’s the proverbial albatross around the city’s neck.

But there is little likelihood of ownership of the historic building changing. It is and will remain an asset — or liability, depending on one’s point of view — for the city of Grand Junction. Unlike Two Rivers, which in the past decade has undergone extensive renovation and seems to demand — and get — more of the city’s attention, the Avalon has always been the stepchild. Its municipal parent has lavished attention and money on its sibling at the other end of Main Street, while the Avalon has struggled to stay open and find an identity.

The latest chapter in the Avalon’s long history — it’s 85 years old and shows it — is the recent completion of a feasibility study by the consulting firm Westlake Reed and Leskosky. The results of that study, at least in terms of dollars needed to make the building work, is not dissimilar to one of a few years ago. The bottom line is that to make the Avalon attractive to an anchor tenant like the Grand Junction Symphony will require the expenditure of about $13 million.

That’s what city officials, the Downtown Development Authority, Avalon supporters and the Grand Junction Symphony will be discussing this summer. Is that expenditure worth it? Can it be done? Who might pay for it? And maybe the biggest question is: Will the symphony be the anchor tenant the building so desperately needs?

There are indications that with the correct renovations, the symphony may finally abandon Grand Junction High School in favor of the Avalon. That’s not a done deal by any means. It will be discussed by the symphony board in the coming weeks.

And it will be discussed by the Grand Junction City Council. As easy as it would be to urge the city to step up and upgrade the city-owned building, that would not be fair. The city too often is seen as the deep pockets for everyone’s pet project. Over the years it has bailed out any number of organizations and projects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, we should be grateful that various city councils have seen fit to spend money on projects that contribute to the quality of life we all enjoy.

The city has its own set of problems to deal with, though, not the least of which is new public safety facilities. That looming expense can do nothing but make more problematic the city’s involvement in Avalon renovations.

That said, the Avalon is owned by the city. So the city will be involved in one way or another in any work that’s undertaken at Seventh and Main.

I have no idea what ultimately will be done at the Avalon. But it is an important piece of the heritage of this community. It is historic and it occupies a very visible corner of downtown. A vacant hulk of a structure is exactly what we don’t want on the corner of Seventh and Main. A better alternative would be for the Avalon to become the heart of the city’s cultural life. The bones for just such an outcome are there.

It will take a community effort to make it happen. It’s an effort that will be worthwhile.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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