Phase by phase: Big plans for theater

Study after study, plan after plan — the ambitious and comprehensive design and renovation plan associated with the Avalon Cornerstone Project takes the historic Avalon Theatre to new heights.

But the introductory phase of renovation — at more than $7 million, with $3 million from the city of Grand Junction, $3.1 million from the Downtown Development Authority and the rest from the Avalon Theatre Foundation — will bring necessary changes long overdue.

“Let’s at least renovate the building and get it back up to a level where it’s something we are proud of,” said Robin Brown, the development director of the Avalon Theatre Foundation.

There’s a litany of improvements needed to create the modern-day performing arts center the foundation envisions.

Brown starts with an obvious target.

“Yes, THE SEATS are the first thing to go,” she said.

Not only are the oft-cursed and cramped plastic seats slated for replacement, but when fully renovated, the Avalon will add nearly 200 more seats to the theater. Needless to say, they will be miles beyond the comfort level Avalon patrons experience today.

There are four options currently under consideration, from plastic on the lower end of the cost scale to an acoustically friendly all-wood version on the upper end.

Actual seats aside, the additional capacity is expected to put the Avalon into another bracket in terms of what types of shows an expanded theater might draw. Some leading shows won’t even consider theaters with less than a 1,000-seat capacity, Brown said.

According to the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, the expanded programming and events planned are projected to double gross revenue at the theater, if all goes as planned.

To make room for the extra seating, the large upper-level projection room added in the 1940s — to handle the huge reels and giant projection devices that were modern at the time but are now outdated — will be taken out, creating a much larger seating area in the balcony section.

That is one of the first steps in IMPROVING THE AUDIO AND VISUAL TECHNOLOGY in the Avalon, also a key part of the improvements of the first phase. A new digital control room will be organized in the basement, providing a new technology hub for all corners of the new theater.

Also set for replacement: the Avalon’s ROOF, as well as its current inefficient HVAC SYSTEM, and network of outdated PLUMBING, along with other mechanical improvements.

For frequent visitors to the current Avalon, the plans for IMPROVED PATRON AMENITIES are welcome news.

The small LOBBY today is expected to be improved and could see major expansion in a subsequent phase. Concessions get a major upgrade in the renovation phase, according to the Cornerstone plan.

The current BATHROOMS — which can only be described as a cloistered fire trap at this point — get an essential upgrade.

So, the theater’s ADA COMPLIANCE gets up to modern speed during the renovation phase. By law, modern theaters today require ADA-accessible seating on all ticket levels, so a PATRON ELEVATOR is one of the key new design features.

A key addition in the first phase — and a critical piece to the Avalon’s business plan moving forward — is a new MULTIPURPOSE ROOM, which will double as a place to show movies when the crowds aren’t filling the Avalon to capacity.

“There’s a lot of nights that the theater is booked, but only for a crowd of like 300,” Brown said, referencing the currently popular Dinner and a Movie program that draws a lot of patrons to the theater, but rarely anything approaching a full house.

The new multipurpose room will be a meeting space, a rehearsal area or an open room for other events. Two events can be held simultaneously. That means more events, more tickets sold and more revenue, both direct and indirect.

Finally, there are aspects in the first planned phase that set the stage for the modern addition to the Avalon that designers envision.

Creating the “shell” of the 21st century addition is planned in the first phase — so the expansion of the theater’s footprint east, toward Seventh Street, will happen in the initial phase, according to plans.

If the project is built to completion, that initial shell will evolve into an expansion of glass and modern design that will remake the corner of Seventh and Main like never before.

A “floating” staircase is set to tower over a new Seventh Street entrance, winding through beautiful new public spaces, connected to critical new gathering areas, and eventually leading to a stunning ROOFTOP TERRACE that could set a new standard for hosting events in the Grand Valley.

Imagine hosting a wedding reception, business after-hours or other community event at the top of the modern new building. With only a sheer protective screen between the crowd and the stars above, people will gather in a space boasting 360-degree views of Colorado National Monument, the Bookcliffs and Grand Mesa.

“There’s nothing like it in the valley,” Avalon Foundation development director Robin Brown said.

Finally, if fully funded through to the design end, the performers at a future redesigned Avalon get a major boost of space and amenities — an obvious critical need.

A needed STAGE EXPANSION will make the performance space ready for groups currently constrained by conditions. According to plans to build a “bustle” to the back side of the theater and into the alley, the stage will nearly double in size, accommodating much larger performances that command higher ticket prices and greater attendance, the Foundation says.

Further IMPROVEMENTS TO BACK AND SIDE STAGE AREAS will provide needed space for performers waiting in the wings, or prepping for performances. This is another improvement that should alleviate the issue of a lack of wing space or green rooms, often a non-starter for high-end performance draws.

So, how does the community get there — to making the expertly designed new Avalon a reality?

At its essence, the Avalon Cornerstone Project is a capital fundraising plan, which will kick into high gear early this year.

The first renovation phase has a funding base from the city, the DDA and initial funds brought in by the Avalon Foundation.

But whether the project blossoms to its full potential — as envisioned by world-class performance-space architects Westlake Reed Leskosky — is up to the community the new theater will serve.

“It’s a community theater. The money should come from the community,” Brown said.

The Avalon Foundation is charged with trying to reach almost $16 million in funding, quite a task in a challenging economy. Brown, realistically, thinks that some kind of “angel investor” might be what’s needed, to get to the project’s full potential.

The foundation, though, is embarking on a capital campaign targeting lead donors who could acquire naming rights to certain aspects of the new theater for a price. Also, it hopes to draw smaller-scale donors with a number of programs to reach its fundraising goals.

Previous supporters will be engaged. A seat-buying program will be extended to the entire list of people who bought them in the past, with some sort of credit program. The previously placed bricks that were part of a past renovation campaign won’t go anywhere.

“The big vision really depends on the community stepping forward and saying, ‘We have an opportunity to capitalize on here,’ ” DDA Executive Director Harry Weiss said.


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