Cinema board was ‘exhausted,’ managers say

The Grand Junction City Council’s extension of financial and marketing assistance to Cinema at the
Avalon in August was seen as a life preserver for the struggling nonprofit organization.

Days before the council’s intervention, the chairman of Cinema’s board of directors had spoken confidently of its “strong future.”

In reality, though, the group that showed independent and foreign films at the city-owned Avalon Theatre was sunk.

City administrators charged with overseeing the operation of the Avalon painted a portrait Tuesday of a debt-riddled nonprofit organization that never submitted a business plan explaining how it would regain its footing and declined a hypothetical offer to lease the theater for movie showings for free.

Administrators and members of the Avalon Theatre Advisory Committee spent more than half of a nearly two-hour meeting rehashing what went wrong with Cinema, five days after the last film was shown at the theater.

Council members had approved a revamped lease agreement with Cinema that sliced its rent from $2,750 a month to $1,250 a month, made it more difficult for the city to pre-empt movies with other events and required it to conduct two fundraising events annually. The city also forgave the $33,000 in rent Cinema didn’t pay in 2007.

Last month, however, the cinema announced it planned to scale back film showings from seven days a week to one weekend and one Wednesday matinee a month, starting the middle of this month.

Debbie Kovalik, executive director of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, Two Rivers Convention Center and the Avalon, and Tim Seeberg, manager of Two Rivers and the Avalon, said the city approached Cinema about further reducing its rent to $500 a month to match up with the fewer show times.

Under the restructured agreement with the city, Kovalik said Cinema agreed to submit an audit at the end of September and a business plan by Oct. 15. She said the audit the city received was “rather vague” and that Cinema board chairman Stephan Schweissing told her the board would not submit a business plan and was instead ceasing operations.

Seeberg said he asked some Cinema board members if they would hang on if the city leased the Avalon to them for free.

“At that point they were tired and exhausted,” Seeberg said.

“They said they were done,” Kovalik said.

Schweissing said he was not at the meeting at which Seeberg mentioned the possibility of no rent. But he said if the city was serious about eliminating Cinema’s rent, it could have made the offer long before a few days before Cinema ceased to exist.

“It was too little, too late,” he said of the hypothetical offer.

Kovalik defended the city against charges from the Cinema board and some in the community that the city didn’t support Cinema.

“It wasn’t an unwillingness to work with them. That’s not the case, and I just want the record set straight,” she said. “We really did everything we could to work with them going forward.”

Cinema has sold its film projector and other equipment to the Downtown Development Authority and paid the city the rent it owed this year. It still owes the city about $2,200 in various fees dating back to the beginning of 2007, Seeberg said.

Schweissing called Cinema’s closing “a sad situation for everyone.”

“That last night was really hard for me,” he said. “I wanted to holler out, ‘Wait a minute, there’s something we can do.’ You feel so badly. You want to make it work. I think that’s how people in both groups are feeling.”


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