Return on investment more than just money

To hear some members of the Grand Junction City Council discuss it, the Avalon Theatre is no more than a business enterprise for the city — a matter of profit and loss and return on investment. If the bean counters on the council don’t see numbers that point to a profitable proposition for the city’s stockholders — i.e. taxpayers — well, then they want nothing to do with it.

But, of course, the city is not a for-profit corporation and the Avalon is a cultural amenity, not a business enterprise.

That’s why the City Council’s decision Wednesday to refrain from spending $3 million it already has set aside for the Avalon is so disappointing. Of course, the council could opt to spend the money when it takes up the issue again next week, and we hope it does. But based on the 4-2 vote Wednesday to delay the funding decision, that doesn’t seem probable.

Councilor Martin Chazen pushed the argument that the city must be able to recoup whatever investment it makes in the Avalon. However, that isn’t the case with most other items on which the city spends money. It does not directly recoup its investment in parks, swimming pools, Two Rivers Convention Center or city streets.

The reason is, the city of Grand Junction exists solely to provide services to its residents. With few exceptions — water and sewer service among them — it raises general tax dollars to cover the cost of those services.

There is certainly room for debate about exactly what those services should entail. But it’s clear that growing, livable cities offer their residents more than just streets, sidewalks and police protection. They have parks and trails and major cultural amenities. These amenities may not directly fill city coffers, but they attract businesses and people to key areas of the city and encourage them to spend money there.

Moreover, the Avalon is not just some random old building in a largely ignored neighborhood. It sits at the entrance to the city’s successful and highly visible Main Street shopping park. It is like a handshake extended to visitors to downtown.

A refurbished Avalon will attract more performers and bigger names, and it can act as a magnet to boost other businesses in the area and attract new ones.

What will the City Council do with the Avalon if it doesn’t proceed with its commitment to the historic theater? Because the Avalon doesn’t meet code and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, it cannot continue indefinitely as it is.

Will the council destroy the building and add the land to its inventory of vacant properties, such as the White Hall parcel?

Will it try to sell the property and look for a new little strip mall to be built at the entrance to Main Street?

And what about the $3 million already budgeted and committed to the Avalon? Will the council give that money back to taxpayers? Spend it on some other, as yet undetermined project? Perhaps the council will simply add the money to the city’s already sizable rainy-day fund. How hard must it rain on the Avalon before that fund is tapped?

If they were starting from scratch, architects could no doubt come up with a better downtown theater and performing arts center than refurbishing Avalon allows. But, short of spending many more millions, we must deal with what we have.

One thing is sure: Cities that continue to grow and attract businesses and visitors look to do more than minimizing taxes. They fund cultural amenities (see column on facing page).

If Grand Junction turns its back on the Avalon, we wouldn’t be surprised if the booming little city just a few miles to the west — you know, the one that already has its own city recreation center — starts investigating ways to construct a performing arts center.

COMMENTS

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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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