Oh, but I do understand … and that’s a problem for some

Craig Hall, Publisher
Craig Hall, Publisher

Since I printed my opinion about the Grand Junction City Council subsidizing the Avalon Theater, I’ve been inundated by Avalon supporters who use the old standbys of “You just don’t understand;” “If you had all the facts, you’d change your opinion;” and my personal favorite, “You don’t want to hear other opinions that differ from yours.”

On that last point, why in the heck do these folks think I write a column? One main purpose is to solicit opinions from others who disagree with me and give them a vehicle through which they’re free to respond. Many respond. But, sadly, few have the courage to agree to publish their responses.

So perhaps this lack of understanding isn’t a problem on my end, but theirs.

For the record, I’ll state one last time my viewpoint on the Avalon succeeding: I’d love it to. I just don’t want an even larger taxpayer giveaway to assure it can survive for a while longer. I want a thriving Avalon that can succeed on its own. And folks, whether you like it or not, that’s not the case. That’s not an opinion. That’s a hard truth.

And no matter how many pie-in-the-sky surveys, business plans, professional “estimates” and studies you come up with, the fact is the Avalon constitutes a drain on taxpayer dollars that benefits a select group of business to the detriment of other groups. But this has nothing to do with today’s economy or declining tax revenues. I just feel strongly it should never be done.

And when I say select, I’m not implying “elite,” as Avalon supporters scoff. (But since they scoff, can’t someone surmise they just might be?) I’m simply saying the government is picking who’s deserving of a taxpayer giveaway versus the vast majority of us who aren’t. It’s a fact government is lousy at picking winners and losers, particularly those businesses it inherits in lieu of unpaid property taxes.

Remember: The government took over a brothel in Nevada and couldn’t make it selling prostitution, gambling and alcohol. Let’s just say government is lousy at business, unless it’s writing a law to benefit its favorites or giving away your taxpayer dollars to a supporter. Then it’s great.

The simple solution should have been to auction the theater the day after the city took possession. I’m guessing there were no takers, even during that economy. But we’re 20 years and millions of dollars too late for that.

Here are a few of the arguments I received from Avalon supporters after reading my commentary either in the paper or online, all with a brief response from me:

1. Even though city council candidates campaigned on cutting spending, with the Avalon at the top of their lists, once they were presented with the facts, their opinions changed — just as with all campaign promises. My first thought is candidates run and promise the public things based on their own wallets. Once they’re in office, they give away stuff based on everyone else’s wallets. Quite frankly, I can now support a recall. I bet a bunch of the same folks who wanted Rick Brainard out of office were happy he hung around for his vote on Avalon funding before he resigned.

2. The city has to subsidize the Avalon because it’s a city owned property that’s not up to code in so many ways. Um, that’s a reason in itself to not fund it.

3. There’s a lot of excitement downtown about the project. Yes, free money does that when it benefits you or your business. Just ask the folks in Detroit who were in line for their share of Obama’s stash.

They seemed very excited.

4. Based on studies, the Avalon renovation will bring a bevy of economic activity to downtown. First off, who submits a study saying it’s a loser? Second, if I get a study saying a $100,000 taxpayer giveaway to me will bring business to North Avenue, can I get a check?

5. One respondent asked me how I would like it if people started boycotting my newspaper because he assumed I was boycotting downtown after I said I’d be less inclined to shop in the city because of the Avalon situation. I take a chance on people boycotting me every day because I print my opinion. It’s a risk I gladly take to put out a product in which people see value. I thank God most readers keep the opinion page separate from the news pages.

6. One respondent asked if in lieu of Avalon funding, would I support a tax for the arts. Really?

7. And then there’s my favorite: The Avalon and culture downtown could help lower the suicide rate. Problem solved.

I’m sure that last comment will get others stirred up. But my response isn’t to belittle the suicide rate in our county.  (Which I take very seriously and am happy to assist in abating, just ask the folks at the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation.) It’s a response to say that I can see addressing the suicide problem as a legitimate focus of our local government. In fact, I already know it is.

But I’m sure someone will want to argue with me about that, too.

Mission accomplished.