Andy Duncan seeks $500,000 from city to restore theater
Original post made
on Aug 9, 2007
Menlo Park resident Andy Duncan says he still plans to restore the historic Park Theatre, but he needs the city's help to foot the bill.
Mr. Duncan, who in January announced his plans to restore the abandoned theater and convert it into a dance studio, sent a letter to the City Council on Aug. 8, requesting a $500,000 grant or no-interest loan to help restore the local landmark.
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posted Thursday, August 9, 2007, 7:17 PM
Posted by Do Due Diligence
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2007 at 8:57 am
1. As a historic building
Let's be clear here. The Park Theatre is not a historic building. It has no legal standing as such. The staff report uses the language: ". . .the Park Theatre appears to be eligible for listing on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. . ." "Appears to be eligible" is a very far cry from actually being so or even ever becoming so. (Duncan's architecture firm, Garavaglia, told him what he wanted to hear.) The bldg. is sixty years old. There are many 60 year old buildings around that are full of interesting detail but that have not come to the Council's attention. In fact, since it is not at the present time a historic building and may never be, restoration for any public use will involve fire dept. code rules that may keep it from ever becoming a historic building. From this perspective, the staff has done little or no research. So, we don't actually know what the ground rules are for this restoration other than what Duncan tells us.
The building, both inside and outside, is in deplorable condition. In actual practice it may well be too far gone since everything inside has totally mildewed. The reality is that the theatre is not historic, and its restoration is driven, not by historic considerations, but by sentiment and romanticism. This "interest" is local, not state and certainly not national. We are not talking about Lincoln's log cabin! Duncan points out that every little girl in Menlo Park took dance lessons from his mom. Everybody over fifteen years of age went to the movies at the Park Theatre. Those charming memories don't justify a restoration using public funds. (Movie buffs: See "The Last Picture Show" and " Cinema Paradiso")
2. As a movie theatre
One aspect of this deal is that at some undetermined time in the future -- or maybe never -- the theatre will be available for purchase by the city, from Duncan the new owner, for use as a movie or legitimate theatre. As a movie theatre it's time has come and gone. The movie industry is no longer interested in small town theatres such as this, with almost no parking at all, and it will never be in the future. The movie industry itself is in deep trouble, is undergoing major upheaval, and its audience, now drawn more and more to adequate parking availability in malls, etc., go to multiplex theatres. Offering to sell the theatre to the city with no time frame is, frankly, cavalier, given the investment in restoration that is asked of the city. Packard's Stanford Theatre is a bad comparison since he built and is subsidizing this permanently with no public funds for a university based niche market.
3. On El Camino
The project is, in it's present and future concept, intended to become a private dance studio which is not open to the public (not even like Kepler's or Borders in Palo Alto). Here, of course, is another example of a single project intended for El Camino, under consideration opportunistically. The City continues to consider one project after another without a comprehensive El Camino plan or framework. Where is the business plan for the city? Duncan says, hurry up or the deal will go away. That is the exact opposite of how we should be thinking about what happens on El Camino. When does this piece-meal development stop? When is enough enough?
4. As a business concept
There is a basic reality here. Duncan wants to relocate his mother's dance studio so that she won't have to pay the higher rents asked for by the Derry family in her present location. That is what this project is all about. The restoration, historic registers, and movie theatre rhetoric and issues are all "lipstick on a pig" and have little relevance to anything pertaining to Menlo Park. Indeed, Menlo Park has just invested massively in a public theatre at M-A HS. If it's a good business concept for Duncan, he should go ahead, buy the building and make a dance studio out of it for his mom, period. And, keep the city out of it. If he wants to restore anything, outside or inside, that's his business. Since there is no multi-access parking to this new location, like the present dance studio with the parking lot in back for dropping students off, access by car to the new site will be more cumbersome, stopping on El Camino more of a traffic hazard, and longer term parking far more difficult than presently.
5. As an investment by and for the city
Remember, as a dance studio, Duncan's mom can stay there in perpetuity. As an investment for Menlo Park, it's a non-starter. Does Menlo Park have an investment policy in place at this time regarding private real estate? There was talk about buying the Park Theatre 34 space parking lot from Duncan for $500,000. for the city. It seems to me that if Duncan has his mom's dance studio there and has been given certain rights to the exclusive use of the parking lot, then the city can wait a very long time, if ever, to get it's public parking lot back for city public use.
If you step back and look at this project rationally, it is weird and makes everybody somewhat uncomfortable even talking about it. The city has a history of considering weird deals, like the golf course at Bayfront. Enough weirdness around here.