No business like show business? Merchants ponder Avalon

Leah Rice serves Brian Watson at Downtown Coffee in Grand Junction, on Main Street across from the Avalon Theatre. The Avalon has been closed for renovation, which has been stalled as the city of Grand Junction reconsiders its $3 million commitment to the project.

Unless Grand Junction city councilors approve a construction contract to allow renovations, it’s likely the Avalon Theatre will stay dark.

The last planned event occurred there June 2, with the showing of a film for a fundraiser. Because it was thought that renovations would start by now, the theater had planned to be out of commission for events until next spring.

City councilors are expected to meet at 3 p.m. today at City Hall in a workshop to discuss the financial scope of the project. Members of the past City Council had approved spending $3 million on renovating the historic venue, but councilors voted 4-2 last week to hold off on that decision for 10 days.

The Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority has committed an additional $3 million and the Avalon Theatre Foundation has committed $1 million. Without the city’s contribution and go-ahead on the $7.1 million construction bid, the project, at minimum, stalls.

“That’s like JUCO going dark,” said Leah Rice, manager of Downtown Coffee, 664 Main St. referring to the annual Junior College World Series.

Incidentally, the shop has a nearly top-to-bottom view of the Avalon and its brick facade through its picture windows. The coffee shop, a nonprofit venture of Downtown Vineyard Church, already is affected by the fact that the theater is closed to the public. The church’s 350 to 400 congregants filled the building on Sunday mornings, paying dues on the space during a time when there weren’t other demands on the theater. Congregants now set up and have services at Two Rivers Convention Center.

Because it’s unlikely congregants will walk about five blocks east after church, the coffee shop is no longer open on Sundays. The influx of visitors to downtown because of church services at the Avalon had created a ripple effect, causing some businesses to open on that day, Rice said.

“When there was a water convention there, that was our busiest day,” she said of business at the coffee shop. “It seems like we have a gold mine right here but people don’t realize it.”

Tuesday night’s “Dinner and a Movie” promotion at the Avalon, which coincided with a 2-for-1 pasta special, kept up a lively dinner rush at Junct’n Square Deep Dish Pizza, 119 N. Seventh St., according to an employee there.

The promotion offered free admission on Tuesday nights for a movie with a receipt from a downtown restaurant.

Having the Avalon anchor the east end of Main Street is more important than it may appear on the surface, said Kevin Reimer, who with his brother Steve own the three hotels on Main Street’s west end, Springhill Suites, Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn & Suites.

“To let it continue to deteriorate is a shame,” he said. “Are we going to board up the windows? How would that look? The other corner is already undeveloped. That is a problem.”

Business from the Avalon is probably not usually directly related to hotel business, but having the Avalon viable is an important factor in the overall health of downtown, Reimer said.

“I do think that tourism is an unheralded, unseen industry. We think it’s naturally occurring, but it’s not. It needs help,” he said. “We have a great downtown, but it’s a fragile downtown.”

Some councilors during last Wednesday’s meeting questioned how much revenue the Avalon brings in. 

The Avalon lost more than $36,000 in 2009, made about $9,400 in 2010, made about $40 in 2011 and lost about $7,400 in 2012, according to Sam Rainguet, Grand Junction city spokeswoman. 

The figures for those years were an improvement from the annual $65,000 in the red when the theater was managed as a cinema, according to Debbie Kovalik, executive director of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau.

In contrast, Two Rivers Convention Center is subsidized by the city to the tune of roughly $275,000 a year.

Councilors will talk this afternoon about the Avalon during their workshop, but a meeting to take a formal vote has not been announced.


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