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MIJ: Now is the time for public to decide old theater’s fate
Friday 20 Jun 2008, 05:11
Filed under: Marin, Novato

Seems although some thought I should watch for a NCRA connection with the Novato Theater, Neary had nothing to do with the Theater demise. Their city council killed it.

Staff Report
Article Launched: 06/20/2008 12:02:43 AM PDT

THE FATE of the Novato Theater has been hanging in the balance for months.

The long-shuttered theater has been part of Novato officials’ long-held plans for attracting more shoppers, restaurant-goers and night life to Old Town.

There has been progress toward that goal even with the theater’s doors locked shut.

For months, the city has been involved in closed-door negotiations with a potential buyer. On a 3-2 vote, the council recently rejected the latest offer, once again making the city the owner of a darkened theater with no certain future that it will be re-lighted as a local venue for films and performing arts.

Mayor Pat Eklund said the council voted to break off talks with developer Tallen and Keshen Holdings LLC because there was no assurance that the theater would be used for a movie house or performing arts.

At least three council members remembered the city’s goal for the theater when it bought the property in 1996 for $400,000. At that time, a local group had hopes of refurbishing the theater into a community-run performing arts center and movie house. The group’s ambition wasn’t matched with local fund-raising support. Today, the city still holds a $184,000 loan balance from that effort.

The City Council was even prepared to take a financial loss on the property to sell it to someone who would revive and reopen it as a theater.

Without a commitment to its future use, why should taxpayers incur the loss?

The cash the city already has invested
in the property is painful as Novato looks at the prospect of tightening budgets.

Mayor Jeanne MacLeamy is right to wonder how much longer can Novato afford to pour money into maintaining a shuttered theater?

Also, as the owner of a number of ghost-like empty buildings downtown, the city is not exactly enhancing Old Town’s prosperity.

Should the theater, at this point, be considered a real asset that can be cashed out to relieve some of the city’s budget problems? Should the City Council give up hope of fulfilling its goal of reopening the theater?

At this stage, the council should reconnoiter, bringing in some local help and expertise from local residents who are involved in the entertainment industry. It would also be wise to touch base with the San Rafael-based California Film Institute that helped save the Rafael theater or Larkspur’s non-profit that runs the Lark.

The city needs to take a quick, but realistic and fair look at the goal it had in 1996 and one, obviously, it still holds.

Novato taxpayers invested their money into the theater with a hope and dream that it would be re-opened and become a vibrant entertainment venue and a successful draw for Old Town.

The fate of the property has been the topic of numerous closed-door meetings of the City Council, but it is time the council take stock, with ample public attention, of its 1996 goal and whether it is realistic in 2008 and beyond.

We hope it is.

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