Guest Opinion: Theater owner offers his view on projects | November 7, 2007 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - November 7, 2007

Guest Opinion: Theater owner offers his view on projects

by Howard Crittenden

As the owner of the Park Theater property, I think it is important to share my thoughts about the current proposals to reuse this building.

The Andy Duncan proposal to convert the building into a dance studio for his mother's California Academy of Dance has proved to be more expensive than expected. Mr. Duncan's current plan would make the city the final owner of the property. He would restore the building at his expense, and lease it back from the city, making a one-time upfront rent payment to cover a number of years.

The City Council thought this was a workable solution and agreed to have the city staff and two council members work with Mr. Duncan to negotiate an agreement.

The other proposal came from Menlo Park real estate broker Tom Hilligoss. I met with Mr. Hilligoss several times to learn more about his idea. He explained his interest in restoring the building and making it a movie house again, along with a live theater and meeting hall. What he plans to spend to buy and restore the building will require that he earn $30,000 per month just to pay the financing cost, not including utilities, insurance, staff, maintenance, advertising and more.

This financial burden will require heavy use of the facilities.

He mentioned that he would need to get several variances and a conditional use permit. He will need a parking variance for the 600 seats he intends to have, and then the required beer and wine license. He wants to remove the trees along El Camino Real that are blocking the sign and replace them with newer, shorter trees. Also, he plans to enlarge the lobby of the theater and remove and rebuild the existing restrooms to make them ADA compliant.

There will be traffic and parking concerns when 600 people regularly attend an event at the theater. Where does one put all these cars? How does someone drive through Menlo Park when the streets are jammed with people arriving or leaving the theater? These are roadblocks that have the potential to ultimately kill his proposal.

Mr. Duncan's plan is the most worthy of support. He has run through the thorn patch of the city's Planning Department and emerged intact. His plan is workable and has benefits for all parties concerned. With the city being the owner, future councils will be in control of the property and do with it what they want after a short 10-year lease. In a decade, the cost to the city today will seem like a bargain.

I think that Mr. Duncan's plan is the best we will see. Over the past years there has been no White Knight to save the theater. I should know, and I don't think one will come along anytime soon, if ever. Mr. Duncan's plan makes the most sense.

We all should agree that the Duncan plan is not perfect but the best we will see. If not, we should be prepared to have this vacant boarded-up building greet those coming into Menlo Park for years to come.

Howard Crittenden owns the Park Theater in Menlo Park and lives in Atherton.


Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 6, 2007 at 2:56 pm

Considering its source, this is the strangest, most puzzling guest opinion I have ever read.
It's like reading about the possible artistic uses for one's own, severed arm.

Posted by RealityBites, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:29 pm

"If not, we should be prepared to have this vacant boarded-up building greet those coming into Menlo Park for years to come."

Sounds like a thinly-veiled threat there, Mr. Crittenden.

In response, I say: Let the Park stand (until it finally falls down) as a continuing testimony to your greed.

You kicked out a perfectly good tenant in hopes that you could make a killing by putting in its place another bland office building - but you missed the mark, time-wise, and now you're stuck with a white elephant.

The city council should focus on making the vacant property ACROSS the street from the Park the gateway to town they're looking for and let you fend for yourself in trying to find a sucker to buy your blight!

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 5:45 pm

Eminent Domain (at real valuation), baby!!!

Kick out landmark for something that ultimately died? Threatening to keep a boarded up building for years?

Eminent Domain (at real valuation), baby!!!

Posted by Jimmy, a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:16 pm

Is this the Kos site?

Posted by new guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 9:06 am

Wow that was the best "guest" letter I have ever read.

All this emotion over a crappy old building, I almost cannot believe it. Mr. Crittenden, since you live in Atherton, you must have done well in life (read: good or really lucky in business) to know what the realities are when it comes to investments. You made a bad investment, and your best choice was a bail out from Menlo Park. Its really that simple.

So now you are making threats to leave a blighted building stand empty. How is that a good business decision?

So where does that leave you? Either grow up, realize you are facing a loss, maybe a total loss, or stay with your emotions and stick it to all of us. Oh, I just don't really care. I only cared when the city was going to bail you out. Now I don't. Good luck. Eminent domain does and probably will happen here now.


Posted by Elizabeth Lasensky, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:06 am

Mr. Crittendon,

Mr. Duncan's proposal might be in his and your best interests but please don't confuse that with being in our best interests. The public benefit of his proposal will only benefit the part of our public who take dance lessons. Your threat to keep the building vacant unless the City takes on this proposal is a show of greed at its worst.

Why do you care how much Mr. Hilligoss will have to bring in a month once he buys the theater building you yourself partially destroyed? How can you complain about the lack of parking for his plan, when for years as it was running as a movie house, the Park Theater had exactly the same lack of parking? These are all red-herring arguments that the public is clearly not buying.

Are you afraid that Mr. Hilligoss's plan is a winner, that it would bring life and culture to downtown that we need?

Posted by old guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Crittenden bought the Park in '86 for $500k.
He bought the Guild in '98 for $650K.
He ain't hurting, even if he does nothing to either.