The Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Advisory Committee declined last week to pursue negotiations for a sale and renovation of the Granada Theater until there is more information about the scope of work and how it will be paid for.
A review group had recommended that city officials enter into negotiations with Charles Gomez and Debra Liddell of Watseka, Ill., for upgrades to the historic theater, which is located downtown on Second Street.
However, committee members did not feel there was enough information to proceed with a deal on the vacant building that’s now owned by urban renewal.
“Don’t you think it would be better to get a new plan from them before we go forward?” asked Jennifer Dewey at the Feb. 16 meeting.
She and other committee members were concerned that Gomez and Liddell had reported having $135,000 banked for the project, and that would not be enough to cover repair costs.
Dewey said new fire suppression and HVAC systems were needed in the theater, and there was likely to be plumbing problems from aging pipes, as well as other structural issues.
Gomez and Liddell have offered to make an immediate $25,000 bank deposit to get the project started.
Their vision is to turn the Granada into a performing arts center, with $2 per ticket for every national act donated to the city in perpetuity.
Dewey said it appeared that Gomez and Liddell were looking at a more superficial fix for the theater.
“I have the same concern as Jennifer,” said committee chair Gary Grossman, who later added: “We have a need for that building to be functional and not become blight.”
The committee also wanted more information about how the duo, who renovated a historic theater in Watseka, which they own, planned to finance a purchase of the Granada.
Gomez and Liddell had requested that the Granada, along with the Recreation and Blue buildings that are also owned by urban renewal, be sold to them for $1.
Daniel Hunter, the city’s project coordinator, said they had also inquired about the possibility of utilizing a volunteer labor force for restorative work.
“I told them there was no way we could go forward with that,” he said of the price.
He said Gomez and Liddell were also told that professional contractors would have to be hired for upgrades.
The review committee that evaluated Gomez and Liddell’s proposal, which was one of three for the Granada block, was made up of Hunter, Mayor Steve Lawrence, Greg Weast, a member of the advisory committee, Gary Rains, city development director, Gene Parker, city attorney, and Julie Krueger, city manager.
Although Gomez and Liddell’s proposal did not receive a top score, reviewers recommended that urban renewal pursue that deal.
“We need to start negotiating so we can bring back a real proposal,” Rains told advisory committee members at last week’s meeting.
Hunter said, although the Gomez/Liddell proposal also included redevelopment of the Recreation and Blue buildings, reviewers felt their experience was better suited to the Granada renovations.
“We felt, looking at their finances, it was probably more realistic for them to focus on the theater,” he said.
The proposal submitted by Granada Block Property Development, LLC, formerly known as Rapoza Development, was ranked highest by reviewers at 444 points out of 750.
Gomez/Liddell’s proposal followed with 276 and the third proposition by local archeologist Eric Gleason received 118 points.
GBPD wants to build a $25 million Hilton hotel/conference center that incorporates the Granada, which would have its historical characters preserved.
Michael Leash, president of the development group, has submitted financial documents to urban renewal showing a signed agreement to loan him $14 million. In addition, he is seeking $8.5 million in funding through a federal immigration investor program known as EB-5.
Leash is still working with investors to score the remaining capital.
Gleason proposes in-fill of six tax lots on First Street. He reported having enough funds “in hand” to complete the initial phase of redevelopment, which would involve an abandoned parking lot at the northeastern corner of the Granada block.
He also wants publicly-accessible archaeological excavations in the area, which once housed a variety of Chinese owned and operated businesses, to be offered as part of a heritage program.
One of the Chinese buildings is owned by Gleason, who wants to see it refurbished as part of his development plan.
Although GBPD’s proposal was not on the urban renewal committee’s table for review at Tuesday’s meeting, Leash was present.
He was asked to address the body after members expressed interest in learning how he felt about having the Granada removed from his company’s development plans.
Although Hunter had said GBPD was on board with a split in properties, Leash noted that was not the preferred option.
“We thought we had a very good plan and I’m open to moving the entire development forward,” he said. He said the theater would be more successful if tied to the hotel development.
He said GBPD had estimated that the aging building needed about $1.5 million in renovations to maximize its potential.
“We can make it work (with another developer) but we have concerns about an independent Granada theater and some pretty significant upgrades that need to take place,” he said.
Leash said Hilton would want to see standards for the theater that would make it a good fit with a Garden Inn.
“The hotel is going to be a new building and it’s going to be something very nice,” he said.
Dewey said she thought it would be “ideal” if Gomez and Liddell managed the theater once it had been revitalized by GBPD.
Weast told Leash that if urban renewal decided to work with Gomez and Liddell, his company could be called on to tackle theater work if the deal fell through. He asked if GBPD would be willing to do that.
Leash said his team was making contingency plans for any eventuality.
“I want to get this done,” he said. “I want to be flexible — I want to be a team player.”
Hunter said all three proposals sought to have the three vacant buildings turned over for development at little to no cost, which the review team did not recommend.
“We need the money for other projects,” he said.
Weast said despite concerns about the Gomez and Liddell proposal, he and other reviewers felt they could be successful with the local venture because of their proven track record in Watseka.
Dewey said that theater was located within one hour of four major population centers, which would not be the case in The Dalles.
Linda Miller, who represents the city council on the advisory body, said she felt the Granada would also draw crowds, despite the rural setting. She pointed out that Maryhill Winery’s Amphitheater routinely drew top national acts and a large audience.
The amphitheater is located about 15 minutes of driving time to the east on Washington State Route 14. At the close of the Feb. 16 meeting, Rains told the advisory committee that reviewers were still having discussions about Leash and Gleason’s proposal and more information would be provided in the near future.
Grossman said Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, had been asked Feb. 12 for $1 million in funding for urban renewal’s use in establishing a hotel complex.
City Councilor Dan Spatz made that request, although he did not specifically name Leash’s company.
Grossman requested $1 million so urban renewal could help Sunshine Mill with expansion and job retention plans.
Lawrence also appealed to the Joint Capital Construction Subcommittee of Ways and Means for $1 million to be used on Civic Auditorium restoration.
Huffman had initially offered to seek $1 million for the agency to use on hotel plans because of the economic development opportunity for a rural area with more limited opportunities.
He said last week that he would do his best to score $3 million to meet all three requests.