Return on investment more than just money

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Perhaps this well written editorial will be the wake up call this new City Council needs in order to move forward with the Avalon Theatre Cornerstone project.

Kudos to the Daily Sentinel for editorially chastising the Grand Junction City Council for its inexcusable ineptitude in failing to resolve ongoing uncertainties as to the future of the venerable Avalon Theater.

By some accounts, the City Council meeting on Wednesday night was an embarrassment to the citizens of Grand Junction – if not to municipal governance in general.  Others complained that the future vibrancy of the city’s declining but unique downtown should not be entrusted to the whims of short-sighted accountants and former grocery clerks.

To be fair, however, the city’s voters knowingly elected “bean counters” to husband their resources – and the untimely passing of widely-revered Pastor Butler may have diverted the Council’s attention onto quantifiable short-term (“Life is Short!”) considerations (like “return on investment”) rather than longer-term, less quantifiable qualitative factors— as chronicled by Debra Hughes (“Cultural resources attract people, business and money”).

It was not that long ago that Grand Junction gained a deserved national reputation as “Grand Junkyard”.  Former City Councils spent millions to erase that stigma and chart a new course.  Now, unfortunately, the slate of elected candidates endorsed by the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce seems more interested in promoting the “Anywhere in America” image of our community epitomized by the mélange of small businesses on North Avenue, the Mall, and Horizon Drive – at the expense of our unique Main Street.

Moreover, as the Sentinel’s editorial implies, the Council’s misplaced focus on “ROI”—which to some may suggest financial sophistication – actually betrays a profound ignorance of (or an ideologically-driven and thus deliberate disregard for) what actually contributes to our community’s “quality of life” and thus long-term economic health.

Just as sound energy policy requires an “all of the above” strategy, so too does our city’s vitality.  Thus, at a minimum, the Council should at least “keep its options open” and take no action that permanently precludes the long-overdue renovation of the Avalon Theater.

So we need to waste $8 Million to upgrade the Avalon, and that still does not get the symphony into the building. That will take another $4 to $8 million. The reality is that the Avalon is a movie theater. Nothing short of tearing it down and starting over is going to improve the venue. By the time we get done with the upgrades we will have almost spent as much on the old building as estimates tell us it would take to build a new one.

All of this for a facility that attracts 50,000 people currently and only project to add 15,000 more with the new upgrade. It is wonderful to have a symphony theater arts opera and the like however in most major cities they are self supporting entities. The reason for this is that major metropolitan areas have larger concentrations of wealthy individuals and large companies, in other words the “elite” who support the arts. The reality in this is the people who clamor for a Symphony Hall and the like make about 1-2% of the population. Their claim that the Avalon is the key to better area fits only a narrow scope of these “elites” vision. The reality is very few of us can afford season tickets to anything and that if you examine the 1500 who go to the Symphony here in Grand Junction they represent about 1% of the population of Mesa County. They are looking for the public to pick up the tab for their social life.

I also take issue with the Sentinel’s argument that if GJ doesn’t refurbish the movie theater, then Fruita will build a brand new Arts Center. If it is too expensive for GJ is probably going to be too expensive for Fruita.

I listened to the impassioned arguments of the Avalon supporters assuring the City that if they would just commit, the Avalon could raise the money. Ummm… the previous City Council did commit and you raised $400,000 and this number is actually false because some of those funds came from the general fund raising before the project was approved. The reality is, in response to the previous City Council committing $3 million tax payer dollars, the Avalon Foundation raised $187,000. Here is an idea, if you really are passionate about this, how about you raise the money and buy the building. Then you can renovate to your hearts content and make it into your dream and the taxpayers will not be on the hook if you fail.

If these proponents of quality of life were really interested in upgrading the valley, they would be teaming with the other area communities and the County to build a Zoological Park. This would bring in far more tourists, and income to the area than a Symphony Hall, of course a Zoo is a little too plebeian for these elitists. They might have to actually rub elbows with the little people of the Valley. Surprise, that little booming town to the West, is already investigating this. Funny how they think a Zoo and not a Symphony Hall is more important.

I agree with Kevin McCarney that emphasis on the symphony smacks of elitism.  Nevertheless, the Avalon Theater remains a unique community asset which should be preserved if reasonably possible—whether or not it can ever accommodate a full orchestra.

I love the “look” of the Avalon as it is. The “new” Avalon will be a portrait of the old.
I know of a non-elitist-good-for-business project that will cost a fraction of the $16 million the Avalon will probably cost and this project already has a huge investment in money and human energy….the Riverfront walkway from 27 1/2 Road to 29 Road. 
The Council needs to approve the money for the appraisal of the Brady property so the sale or trade can move forward.  As far as I am aware, if the value is agreeable to all concerned, Mr. Brady is still willing to sell. Even the poorest of us can enjoy the Riverwalk and we can name it the “Butler Walkway” as a tribute to a man that wanted what was best for the people.



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