Plans under way to expand historic downtown theater

The Avalon Theater in downtown Grand Junction could serve as the new home of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra if the organization can raise money to expand and renovate the historic structure. The Downtown Development Authority also has pledged money for a capital campaign. (Business Times photo by Mike Moran)

It’s been the venue for movies, traveling entertainers and the local symphony orchestra. The historic Avalon Theater also is billed as one of the anchors of downtown Grand Junction, standing as a link between performances of yesteryear and the performances of today and offering an artistic complement to the restaurants, retail stores and offices that line Main Street.

On the verge of extinction in the 1990s, a Save the Avalon organization headed by community leader Pat Gormley, combined with funding from the City of Grand Junction, helped keep the doors open. The city later took full ownership and the theater is now managed under the Economic, Convention and Visitor Services Department.

The next chapter in the theater’s history could be expansion and renovation of the building to accommodate the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra and perhaps more traveling musical and theater groups.

The symphony board of directors plans to raise money through a capital campaign within three years, but such a campaign could be underway in 2012.

The board has hired a fund-raising specialist from Chicago, said Karen Hildebrandt, president of the symphony board. She said the firm has experience and is familiar with the Grand Valley after working on the St. Mary’s Hospital campaign that raised funds for construction of a 12-story patient tower.

Hildebrandt told Grand Junction City Council in September that low construction costs and an absence of another local capital campaign could lead the symphony to begin a capital campaign soon.

The Downtown Development Authority plans to contribute $3 million toward the renovation project, while the symphony’s goal is to raise $7 million during the first phase of a capital campaign.

The first phase would include renovation of the stage area and installation of a new heating and air conditioning system. A second phase would need to raise $6 million to add restrooms, dressing rooms, storage space and a multipurpose room. The price tag for the entire project is pegged at $16 million.

“We’re selecting key people,” said David Durham, a local musician who’s performed at the theater and is a member of the Avalon Theater Foundation Board. The concession stands and balcony areas of the theater have already been renovated and the heating system was upgraded in the past decade.

The Grand Junction City Council gave a vote of confidence to the expansion plan, approving a 50-year lease for the symphony to be the primary tenant of the Avalon.

The plan is to ensure donors that their dollars will be used to help the musical organization as well as the downtown building.

The foundation board hasn’t discussed the potential of constructing a new building on the site of the historic structure, Durham said. “The board feels it’s a unique and historical and important part of the Grand Junction landscape.”