Maybe it’s time to send the Avalon to Avalon

Craig Hall, Publisher
Craig Hall, Publisher

Perhaps you find that harsh. Well, so are life, love, war and especially business for the vast majority of us. Unless, of course, you are General Motors, Chrysler, certain banks, insurance companies, a campaign donation bundler who happens to have a green energy firm or a favored political group, then life is a subsidy away. Then all you need is the majority of votes from the select few.

And that is why the debate over the Avalon Theater right here in River City is a case in point as to why our founding fathers despised majority rule. Put bluntly, if five people on the Grand Junction City Council decide to agree with what a vocal few are pushing, then more than $3 million of our tax dollars will be given to the Avalon Theater to extend its existence and go where millions have gone before. Sadly, some of the millions have gone into buying the building in question. So my guess is the money will, indeed, be approved by this council or the next since funding bad investments seems to be what government does best when it comes to business.

But if the recent history of the Avalon has shown anything, it is that the way it has been run and operated the past several years (some of it under city ownership) is no longer a viable business model; as subsidy after subsidy has shown. Is this difficult to accept for those of us that would love a thriving theater downtown? Yes it is. It is also fact. But wanting a thriving theater and entertainment district on Main Street is whole different story from the city of Grand Junction bankrolling it, especially if the bankroll is used mainly to keep it out of the red or to invest or do construction on property it should have never owned in the first place.

Our city council has enough on its plate with declining tax revenues, other pressing infrastructure priorities and concerns about seats on the council itself. Also, there’s nothing I can point to that says this council has to abide by what previous councils had decided to do. And that is a good thing, because governing bodies tend to make bad decisions in the interest of the few, as this decision would continue to be to many of the taxpayers in our city.

None of this means I don’t want the Avalon to survive and thrive, just like all businesses. I just don’t want my tax dollars being placed on the roulette wheel for another spin. The fact is that of the more than $7 million the theater needs for this project, almost 90 percent of it is tax dollar based, whether coming from the city or tax assessments from the Downtown Development Association (DDA). 

Now, you can argue that those tax dollars are based on a vote, and you’d be correct to a point. After all, we elected the previous city council and the DDA got approval to continue to issue bonds as it sees fit from a vote a few years back. But quite frankly, those were things approved by majority vote at that time, and now they may be taken back in the same manner.

As for the city, the local daily paper opined that it isn’t about making a profit.

I agree. The city shouldn’t be in the business of making a profit — which means the city shouldn’t own businesses, which require a profit to survive. As for the DDA, all that is required is one more yes vote in its district than no votes, and the few can do as they wish. Thereby, leaving the minority with a smaller bank balance to operate on if they wish to own property and do business in the district. It also costs us more to shop downtown to pay for the assessment, because those taxes are paid by customers. And taxes, however collected or voted in, are not voluntary donations.

I know the good folks at the Avalon Cornerstone Project have put into place several fund-raising ideas, including trying to get 1,000 donors at $1,000 each, seat naming rights and other naming rights in an attempt to raise private funding. Whether it’s the timing, the economy or another reason, the fund-raising has come up short. To me, nothing speaks more to the overall public sentiment as to what is a priority right now.

I’ve read comments about how important the Avalon is to the cultural aspect of our community and that cities that subsidize culture grow and prosper. Oddly, they never say which cities those are. They also don’t wish to discuss those cities in terms of just exactly who and where benefit from the cultural boon. That’s because other people, services and areas suffer from the decision. The only reason Grand Junction has the cultural icon known as the Avalon is because of the generosity of one man. And now the select few who want to determine just what is culture want the rest of us to pay for it.

I’m hopeful there’s a solution outside of taxes for the theater, but I don’t see it. And sadly, when all else fails in today’s world of subsidies, the burden unfairly falls on the taxpayers. Particularly if the city owns the property.