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.

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