Curtain falling on grand plans for Avalon

Nonprofit reduces movie showings; committee scales back capital project

Bryan Wade, the manager for Cinema at the Åvalon setting up a movie in the projection room at the Avalon. The Avalon is cutting back on the showing of movies.

A year ago, a group of eager volunteers stood in front of Grand Junction city leaders and unveiled plans to transform the Avalon Theatre from a quaint but outdated venue to a modern magnet for the arts-and-culture community. ¶ Stakeholders proposed constructing a second movie screen to allow Cinema at the
Avalon to show independent and foreign films 365 days a year, freeing up the main building for musical and theatrical productions.

Even when the project price tripled, few flinched, vowing to do what was needed to accentuate the theater.

The Avalon seemed poised to take a big step forward.

Today, however, the theater appears closer to retreat.

The Cinema at the Avalon board of directors recently voted to reduce movie showings from seven days a week to one weekend and one Wednesday matinee a month. The Avalon Theatre Advisory Committee has recommended pursuing a scaled-down makeover of the theater, shelving for the time being a major expansion and renovation.

The committee’s recommendation nixes the possibility of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra moving its performances from Grand Junction High School to the theater at the corner of Seventh and Main streets.

Stakeholders attribute the changes to a host of factors, including increased competition for patrons’ entertainment dollar, declining ticket sales and donations and the national economic plunge.

“We are all going to have to operate a little bit in a different mode because everyone’s business activity
levels, whether it’s nonprofit or for profit, whether it’s events or whether it’s movies, a lot of the way that’s going to function in the next six to 12 months is going to be at a somewhat reduced capacity,” said Debbie Kovalik, executive director of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, Two Rivers Convention Center and the Avalon Theatre.

The shake-up at the Avalon likely will lead city officials to search for a new primary tenant and could prompt a hard look at how the theater should operate in the future.

Until recently, the Avalon Theatre Advisory Committee had contemplated a significant capital endeavor aimed at modernizing and adding to the 85-year-old theater. The $14 million to $18 million project would have featured the construction of a second, 120-seat theater to show movies, and the back wall of the main building would have been knocked out to expand the stage.

But a consultant’s feasibility study raised doubts that proponents could generate the larger amount of money. Instead, the committee voted to consider a more basic level of infrastructure improvements that could cost between $3 million and $5 million.

“I don’t think that the Avalon board stopped everything,” Kovalik said. “They just said, ‘We need to regroup and talk about how the Avalon is running today. What do we need to do?’ ”

The committee had courted the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra to relocate to the Avalon. But with the more ambitious, expensive project off the table, symphony officials say the Avalon is no longer an option.

Symphony Executive Director Michael Schwerin said the Avalon’s stage would need to be expanded to accommodate 70 musicians, and the acoustics would need to be improved to direct sound into the audience, rather than up into the ceiling.

“With the $5 million project, it just doesn’t address any of those issues,” Schwerin said.

Faced with its own issues, Cinema at the Avalon will cut movie times to one weekend and one Wednesday matinee a month beginning in mid-Nov-ember.

Stephan Schweissing, president of Cinema at the Avalon’s board of directors, said the nonprofit could revert back to the film schedule it used prior to expanding to a seven-day-a-week format in 2003 and have one show time Friday night, two on Saturday and one Sunday afternoon, although that hasn’t been decided. He said he’s not sure whether one or two films will be shown at once.

The reduction in show times also will lead to employee cutbacks. Cinema at the Avalon currently employs three full-time employees, including an executive director, and several part-time employees, but
Schweissing said he’s not sure how many layoffs there will be.

“It’s an unfortunate part of it,” he said. “Our staff has really given their heart and soul to independent and foreign film.”

He said the nonprofit has been hampered by the opening of Regal Cinema’s 14-screen, stadium-seating movie theater and a reduction in the independent film industry.

“Our numbers have been declining over the past number of months,” he said.

Kovalik said a local bank agreed to give Cinema at the Avalon $5,000 for a year’s sponsorship in August but then pulled its commitment two weeks ago.

“We think Cinema is still a worthwhile endeavor,” Schweissing said. “With modifications, we can be a viable part of the community and offer a good service.”

Kovalik said she expects the city will contact other clients who have used the theater in recent years to see if they’re interested in occupying the space left by Cinema at the Avalon.


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