Avalon plan may be similar to earlier one

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The Downtown Development Authority and the Grand Junction Symphony paid $75,000 for a design firm to study renovations to the Avalon Theatre on Grand Junction’s Main Street. They were presented with a $13 million proposal.

Andre van Schaften felt a bit of deja vu when design firm Westlake Reed and Leskosky presented its vision for the Avalon Theatre during a June 29 open house.

Placing an extra room for performances and meetings east of the theater wall reminded him of a plan the now-defunct Avalon Advisory Committee created for free two years ago. Both plans also suggest improving acoustics, changing the box office, and allowing more room for storage and dressing rooms.

“I didn’t see much difference in what they presented. Theirs was more polished,” van Schaften said.

The $13 million project proposed by Westlake Reed and Leskosky has some similarities to the advisory board’s original plan, said former committee member and current Downtown Development Authority board member Steve Thoms.

But the new plan, for which the authority and the Grand Junction Symphony paid $75,000, is thicker and includes more information on everything from types of lighting to ways of perfecting acoustics in the building, Thoms said. Plus, the design firm’s package includes a comprehensive business plan, he said.

“This is much more detailed than the old plan,” Thoms said.

Old problems still exist in the form of finding money to pay for renovations, Thoms said.

The advisory committee’s concept came with an estimated price tag of $18 million, although Thoms said he believes the new and old projects may cost about the same with construction costs lower than they were a couple of years ago.

A 2008 funding-feasibility study by the advisory committee found philanthropic support from donors outside the authority and the city of Grand Junction could total $3.2 million to $8.4 million, not enough to cover the entire cost, even with today’s construction bids.

Construction costs may be down, but charitable donations have decreased during the recession.

Thoms said a foundation or private donations may help finance Avalon remodeling, but nothing is certain.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen in a year or two. Even if we came up with a way to finance it now, we would have to come up with a conceptual plan,” he said.

It may have been enough to get some work done if the donations had come in before the recession, van Schaften said.

But the economy turned right after the study came out.

Funding the project suddenly lost steam, former Avalon Advisory Committee Chairman Ron Beach said.

“We all agreed we could not ask for money in a down economy because you kind of look like a fool asking for contributions for a theater that can function, although not at its full glory,” Beach said.

After the DDA and symphony joined the next year as firm partners in an attempt to renovate the Avalon and announced they would pay for an independent study, the committee disbanded after three years.

Beach said he hopes, but does not know, whether the new design firm looked at the committee’s funding, business strategy and project studies; designs created pro bono by Chamberlin Architects; and cost estimates supplied to the committee for free by Shaw Construction.

But he said he’d be flattered if the design firm did see these things and felt the committee was on the right track enough to expand on some of the ideas in the documents.

Regardless of credit, Beach said he hopes the Avalon project finds funding.

“Unless there’s some great benefactor out there that we weren’t aware of, it’s a tough call,” he said. “I just wish there was a great big money tree I could shake and bring $13 million down there in a wheelbarrow.”

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