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No deal yet on city funds to restore Park Theatre

Original post made on Aug 14, 2007

During a hastily convened special meeting Monday afternoon, the Menlo Park City Council postponed a decision on a request by Andy Duncan of Menlo Park to give him a $500,000 grant or no-interest loan to help him fund the restoration of the now abandoned Park Theatre on El Camino Real.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 13, 2007, 5:10 PM

Comments (14)

Posted by ordinary citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 14, 2007 at 8:47 am

The Council wisely deferred this matter until more of the public could participate in its discussion. The real question is: Is our community willing to step up and support Mr. Duncan's dreams, much as occurred with Kepler's? I fondly remember the lovely interior of the theater. I would much rather this be preserved than to see another dull office building that does nothing for El Camino or city coffers.

However, I am not supportive of using city funds to support a private enterprise unless there is substantial tangible public benefit. Simply preserving a historic site isn't enough when it would be used by a private enterprise, even a beloved one like the dance school.

Posted by tap dancer
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 14, 2007 at 10:03 am

It's unfortunate that the applicants could not have been given a flat "no" instead of a wishy-washy "let's wait." The council should make it clear that funneling public money to private enterprise is simply not acceptable (and, I suspect, may not be legal without a general vote).

The comparison to Kepler's is inappropriate for many reasons, not the least of which is that Kepler's received no public money. If individual donors want to step up and save this building (and where have they been over the last few years?) and need the city to grant them some kind of variance, that would be a different story.

Finally, I want to point out that the city itself sponsors a number of popular dance programs, notably Jane Kellam's classes at Burgess Rec. Practically every girl in Menlo Park (and some of the boys too) has taken classes with Jane. The last time I looked, the dance studio was not in the best condition. The rec center ballroom is also used for dance classes for children and adults How about taking that half-million and using it to renovate our public dance facilities?

Posted by ordinary citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 14, 2007 at 7:01 pm

tap dancer - my comment about Kepler's was meant to point out that the rescue of that fine institution did not require public funds, either. Private individuals came forward for that rescue, and could also do so for this facility. I would think there are enough theater buffs and dancing alumni and buffs to help. I agree with your position, by the way.
The Council meeting was hastily scheduled, so I feel that if there is going to be any discussion it should be with more notice so more of the community can chime in.

Posted by Watching and Wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 14, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Good points made, good questions raised. If the public really does want the theater to be restored, there should be an effort to find private financial support, just as with Kepler's. This is a city with the know-how and the resources to do that.

I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of taxpayers supporting this kind of private enterprise, but the alarm bells rang out of control when it became clear how the public process was being circumvented to rush this deal through. My applause goes to Boyle and Cohen particularly, and to Robinson and Cline as well, for not going along with the mayor's apparent maneuvering to rush through a deal on Monday.

Wasn't the circumvention of the public process the MO of the prior council majority? Madam Mayor, wake up. We're still watching.

Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 15, 2007 at 12:36 pm

Why wasn't this RIDICULOUS idea shot down??

Public money given to a private enterprise? $500k??? Hello??!?!??!?

Either something is wrong with me or the MP council. Either way, something isn't right.

"Gimmie $500k or I'll walk?" Go ahead. Walk!

Posted by flush
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 15, 2007 at 9:49 pm

Floundering Fergusson, new City Manager. Serious power vaccuum at city hall. The Mayor was the driver on this and other imprudent deals (think UTT). Fergusson's missteps make her vulnerable for next year's re-election, if she dares run again. She has alienated a lot of mainstream taxpayers and former supporters. Her hubby is a Stanford employee, so she's conflicted out on any former ECR car dealer entitlement decision making(Stanford owns all the dealer lots). Likewise Robinson, his wife teaches at Stanford. The weeds will keep on growing. So that leaves Boyle, who just edged out Bressler for the last seat on council, to push a like minded and Stanford friendly candidate. Think big time campaign $$$$. Presidential election year to boot. High voter turnout. Cohen will be Mayor in '08 and his sage, avuncular persona has appeal for re-election. He's been smart enough to not alienate constituents. So start thinking about a viable candidate to replace Fergusson. Bressler has name recognition and is a recent Planning Comm. appointee. Bressler's a Stanford grad like Cohen but an independent thinker. 2 seats up for grabs. Any other prospects come to mind?

Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 16, 2007 at 8:44 am

How can we spend $500K to prop up a dubious private business venture while having not invested anything in far more important projects - playing fields, infrastructure maintenance, etc. This is ridiculous. Kelly seems to feel that the role of Mayor is to run the city as her own little "green" playground. This is ridiculous. I wonder if Menlo park has recall provisions in the city charter.

Posted by ordinary citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 16, 2007 at 11:34 am

Please don't blame Fergusson for the UUT. It was a recommendation of the prior Council, and the multi-partisan ballot campaign was initially headed up by Fergusson and Jellins who disappeared as usual when real work was required. I think the jury is still out as to whether the UUT is needed to address the structural issues causing projected budget deficits.

Posted by Council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 16, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Please, Cohen has not lead any initiatives, has shown no leadership, is not a primary representative on any board, is often in outer space when sitting on the dais. Boyle won by about as many votes as Cohen did in his election so call a spade a spade.

Posted by stop all the negativity
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 18, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I am disgusted with all the bashing of our elected City Council members in Town Square Forum. Why not just pick up the phone and call your City Council members if you have questions or concerns? I'm sure they'd be very happy to answer your questions and listen to your point of view. If, after you have taken the initiative to actually talk to some of the Councilmembers, you are unsatisfied with their performance, then write a letter to the editor and SIGN YOUR NAME. Or run for office yourself! Using anonymous blogs to bash people and spread rumors just pollutes the political atmosphere making it more difficult to get anything productive done in this town.

Posted by that's what a forum is for
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 18, 2007 at 2:53 pm

Neg, a lot of us do write letters and go to meetings, and some of us feel pretty frustrated. Isn't this a place to vent? Anonymously? If you have a problem with anonymous postings or people who whine, then there's an easy solution for you. I am not going to tell you what tone you should be using and what venue is most appropriate for your complaints, so why are you trying to dictate to the rest of us?

Posted by winter dellenbach
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Regarding the Park Theater:

This is not an intellectual argument. This is the last gasp for a beautiful neighborhood theater that will crumble under a leaky roof if someone bloody well doesn't step in quickly.

I think people forget that culture, the arts and the public and private venues that house them are routinely and heavily subsidized through private and public means. Without subsidy, arts and culture would fade away. Membership fees, private donations, public grants from tax monies, business taxes, fund drives, etc. City Councils provide benefits all the time that are of great value to private parties making private profit through granting zoning changes and variences for parking, building density, and on and on. Developers make more profit for themselves from the benefits granted by the City.

The Park Theater deserves community support. Beautiful historic buildings in Menlo Park are a rare thing and as such are themselves a public benefit aesthetically, and as an arts venue. The building is and expression of our town's history and its Art Deco architecture and sign announces to one and all that they have arrived in Menlo Park.

There are many ways the City can support preserving the Park Theater. The City should offer concrete support to the buyer who is really putting out his neck in investing substantial money he will never get back if the owner nixes the deal. That the Theater actually has a buyer who is willing to spend a couple million dollars out of his own pocket is a miracle. Rarely do historic buildings that have been allowed to fall into disrepair find a buyer. And here is a buyer who is hired a preservation architect to see that the Theater is fully restored inside and out, down to its last bit of neon. I think people do not give enough credit to this buyer. The City can do here what they often do - meet and negotiate with the parties, perhaps offer a low interest loan if they are reluctant to make a money grant, approve variences if needed in the future.

I hope to again see films in a fully restored Park Theater. In the meantime, a sensitvely designed dance studio that can be converted back to film use is a good alternative to losing the Theater entirely. That a long-time family owned business that runs on a slim profit-margin is the tenant is hardly a crime (unless you really think that those dance instructors are making the big bucks).

I think Mr. Duncan, Mr. Crittenden and the Mayor and other City staff, deserve the best wishes and heartfelt thanks if they can agree to sell, buy, and support a new life for a wonderful Menlo Park Jewel - the Park Theater.

w. dellenbach

Posted by ordinary citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 20, 2007 at 5:35 pm

I hope individuals, not the city, will invest in the theater. Mr. Duncan and Ms. Dellenbach should do everything they can to pull people together, as was done to save Kepler's.
The city, in order to decide to invest in the theater, would have to decide what it will NOT do with the same funds out of its limited budget. Don't count on that to happen.

Posted by IndieFan
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 23, 2007 at 10:16 am

Benefitting developers by changing zoning density is one thing, handing a private enterprise $500,000 of taxpayers' money is quite another.

I think Menlo Park could support another independent, single-screen movie theater, and I would love to see the Park show movies again. But I still don't see how a cash-strapped city could justify spending the public's money on the Park.

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