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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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, August 9, 2007, 7:17 PM

Comments (11)

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Posted by Deal me in
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 9, 2007 at 8:11 pm

2 p.m. on a Monday in August! Surely the public will turn out in droves.

I think the half-mil grant sounds like a swell idea. I want to start a business too, and am hoping I can be the next recipient of the council's largesse. Who cares about Dumbarton rail--the gravy train stops here!

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 10, 2007 at 8:43 am

I thought this was a joke. Maybe "The Onion" writers were covering local events. Apparently, Duncan is actually expecting public funds to fund his private venture.

Does this seem like a joke to anyone else??

If MP gives away half a million to this person, then I think I will ask for a similar amount to open a pet shop or a liquor store or a car dealership or a competing dance studio!!!

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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.

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Posted by Apostrophe Posse
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 10, 2007 at 10:49 am

Dear Do Due,

"It's" is a contraction of "it" and "is." Check your post and substitute "it is" everywhere you have "it's." If your sentence no longer makes sense, the word you want it "its."

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Posted by Do Due Diligence
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2007 at 10:58 am

Due Diligence obviously didn't do his! Thank you, Apostrophe Posse, you got your man! You are quite right and I apologize. That's what I get when I don't have my wife edit my turgid prose.

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Posted by are you nuts?
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 10, 2007 at 1:52 pm

What in creation are you thinking of to hand over 1/2 million in public money to a private business? Sure SOME people in this town are sentimental about their days of youth spent in the Park theater, but not all of us are from here and we are not obliged in any way to fund a monument to their wistful memories. This proposal should be rejected out of hand, it should not even make it to any kind of council meeting. Any council member considering this should be immediately marked for defeat at the next election for stupid and unprincipled expenditure of public money!

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Posted by HomerSimpson
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 11, 2007 at 11:10 pm

Me-thinks someone should inform Mr. Duncan that the Jellins-Winkler-Duboc-driven developer gravy train deluxe was soundly driven out of business/town last November!


PS - Now if you want to give a grant to 7-11 to permanently turn it into a Kwik-E-Mart that offers free donuts every morning, you might be on to something!

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Posted by Maggie Q
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 11, 2007 at 11:50 pm

D-oh! HomerSimpson got it all wrong, this is more likely another Kelly's pet project, so she can add it to her resume saying her saved another MP's landmark. Stay tune! We are going to find out on Monday!

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Posted by Tap dancer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 12, 2007 at 8:59 am

This project is pure Kelly. The old cabal has come out against it. See Web Link and Web Link

This isn't about Menlo Park.

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Posted by HomerSimpson
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 12, 2007 at 11:19 pm

Double d'oh!!! Thanks for the info.

BTW - A MONDAY AFTERNOON meeting on this??? While the "old cabal" simply steamrolled through stuff, looks like "da new Mayor" wants to take a different tack and try to SNEAK it through unnoticed.

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Posted by John K
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 14, 2007 at 3:49 am

So now the Park Theater is "historic" and worthy of "restoration". If the Park is concidered historic why stop there? We should also label the abandoned auto dealership buildings on El Camino as historic and preserve them as well.

I grew up in Menlo Park in the 50s and 60s and saw many movies at the Park and the theater was nearly as run-down and nondescript then as it is today. It was nothing more than a plain box-shaped room with creaky old seats. The Park had none of the charm nor beauty of the Stanford or Varsity theaters in Palo Alto. Frankly, I don't think it's worth saving.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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