Menlo Park real estate broker Tom Hilligoss has announced that he no longer is pursuing the possibility of buying and restoring the Park Theatre on El Camino Real -- a development almost certain to renew the controversial plan by the city to use public funds to buy the theater and lease it out to be used by a private enterprise.
Mr. Hilligoss informed the City Council this morning (Thursday) that the Park's owner, Howard Crittenden of Atherton, told him yesterday that "he is not going to continue our negotiation in favor of moving forward with Andy Duncan."
Mr. Duncan had been working with the council on a plan that would have the city buy the 60-year-old former movie theater and lease it to Mr. Duncan's development entity for 55 years. Under that plan Mr. Duncan would restore the building, including the exterior, the neon signs and the lobby.
But though the city would own the building, it would not be a public facility under the arrangement -- a component of the plan that a number of residents have severely criticized, with some even threatening the recall of any council member who approves such an agreement.
Mr. Duncan has said he intends to outfit the building to be used by the private Menlo Park Academy of Dance, co-owned by his mother and now housed a block away.
At the Oct. 2 City Council meeting, the council voted 3-2, with John Boyle and Andy Cohen opposed, to begin drafting an agreement for the city to buy the building and lease it to Mr. Duncan. That process was halted later that week when Mr. Duncan asked the council to put the plan on hold for 30 days because Mr. Hilligoss was interested in buying the building. "Since Mr. Hilligoss has now stepped forward with a plan, I think the best thing for the city is to allow him to have an opportunity to be heard," Mr. Duncan wrote in an Oct. 5 e-mail to the council.
With Mr. Hilligoss now out of the picture, the city is likely to move forward with drafting an agreement with Mr. Duncan. In an Oct. 16 memo to the council, City Manager Glen Rojas wrote that it is the staff's understanding "that Mr. Duncan is still interested in the Park Theater project as originally proposed and will continue to pursue his plan along with the city if Mr. Hilligoss in unable to negotiate agreeable terms with the property owner."