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Theater Options Under Review
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Faced with Buehler & Buehler Engineers' report that the Del Rio Theater is unsafe to occupy and will cost more than $1 million to make usable, city Economic Development & Housing Director Tim Ogden presented four options to Riverbank Redevelopment Agency in Monday night's staff report.

They ranged from waiting for more redevelopment funding or seeking another bond to demolishing just the auditorium where the structural problems lie and replacing it with another building or demolishing the entire structure and rebuilding.

For his first option, Ogden basically suggested delaying structural improvements until funding becomes available. Due to declining property values and a struggling economy it could take several years before the Agency has sufficient funds for rehabilitation as defined by HY Architects, let alone the performing arts center improvements estimated to cost $8 million.

Other funding sources could be federal and state stimulus funding, private sector donations or local fundraising. The city could consider a historical assessment to see if the building could qualify for funds under a historical designation.

For his second option of securing another bond, Ogden suggested using the $400,000 currently allotted to the building's restoration as leverage to secure additional bond funds. This would require analysis by the Agency's bond counsel.

For the third option, he suggested demolishing just the auditorium, since the structural evaluation identifies only the auditorium as having failing trusses and not the low roof of the restaurant or banquet hall number two, otherwise known as Suite A. This would remove structural concerns and with some exterior framing and finishing let the rest of the building remain and be occupied.

Ogden suggested the Agency consider rebuilding a structure on the former auditorium space, possibly a Sprung Instant Structure, prefabricated metal, tilt-up concrete or traditional wood framed structure. The price for a 5,000 square foot 'Sprung' structure was recently quoted at $178,000.

For the fourth option, Ogden advised demolishing the entire structure. A historically significant "skyline" would be gone from the community but so would its sunken costs and costly remedies for rehabilitation, he noted. The Agency could then consider selling the vacant lot or developing it again. Besides the Del Rio Theater building and parking lot (.66 and .44 acres respectively), the Agency owns the former Reed's Garage (.17 acres). So the Agency would have a 1.27-acre size lot to develop on a gateway corner to the downtown.

Ogden based his recommendations on discussions by the Downtown Revitalization Committee that heard the engineer's report and discussed options on March 30.

The Committee talked about waiting for more Agency funding, securing new funds, demolishing just the auditorium (the Bingo Hall) where the structural problems lie, or demolishing the entire building and considering the possibility of a Sprung Structure or prefabricated building.

By a 6-1 vote, the Committee recommended the Agency considered demolishing the entire site, salvaging the historical marquee and rebuilding to incorporate historical elements reminiscent of the Del Rio Theater.

The Committee also advised looking at how to consolidate the Teen Center, now nearing a bid date, with any new performing arts center.

Opened in 1947 as a movie house by a leading theater designer O.A. Deichmann, the theater closed around 1971 for lack of community interest but was revitalized in1987 with various businesses occupying the frontage on Atchison and Third streets. These included the Del Rio Restaurant and a Bingo Hall in 1994.

The Redevelopment Agency purchased the building in February of 2007 for $1.7 million and originally allocated $1 million for rehabilitation to provide a venue for local arts events and anchor revitalization of the downtown.