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Menlo Park: Andy Duncan says dance studio is back on the table

Original post made on Aug 28, 2007

Menlo Park resident Andy Duncan said Monday his plan to restore the Park Theatre and convert it into a dance studio is back on the table and he plans to hold a community meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 12, to explain it to the public.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 29, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (24)

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Posted by Steve Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 28, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Following the demolition of the City's Burgess Theater for seismic and structural safety reasons, the City Council in 2002 reserved $2.6 million for a replacement facility. The Park Theater with its location near Kepler's, the Guild Theater, downtown and other downtown attractions was idehtified as such a facility. Ultimately, the $2.6 million was given to the Sequoia High School District as a contribution toward the new multi-use auditorium at Menlo-Atherton High School. In the past, Menlo Park elected officials have been willing to support the use of public money to promote private projects that have public benefit.

The $500,000 being discussed is a loan, not a gift. It's similar to what the City has done in the past to enable city managers buy houses in Menlo Park. I hope that times haven't changed that much.


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Posted by WheresMyVentureCapital?
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Hey Steve,

I want to start a new business too in Menlo Park -
where do I line up to get my no-interest city loan to pay for it???


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Where do I sign up?
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Aug 28, 2007 at 2:47 pm

Not only is it an interest-free loan, he wouldn't even have to pay it back until he sells the property! Do you think I can get a loan for a new Mercedes with that condition?


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 28, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Steve / Menlo Council / Duncan,

Giving money to a high school district is NOT EVEN IN THE SAME BALLPARK as giving a loan/grant to a private party.

Go get a "circle of patrons" who will altruistically chip in. What nerve to go to the government.

Yes, we all know they waste it, but at least it is not as offensive as this.


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Posted by logic are not us
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 28, 2007 at 3:13 pm

Steve, hope you are planning to run for council next year, because that will ensure that the candidates I support will be elected.


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Posted by no mo steveo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 28, 2007 at 10:32 pm

Times HAVE changed that much Steve. It's time you just slip away before you get dragged under with KF and the rest of the tax and spend crowd. The "residentialists" are wise to you.


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Posted by Banker
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 29, 2007 at 9:47 am

How does Steve know that it's a no-interest loan?

How about some examples of MP giving loans to private land and business investments?

How about some examples of MP giving loans to private land and business investments? (Outside of the Redevelopment Agency?)

Ah, The Bank of Menlo Park, Mayor Fergusson, Loan Committee.


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Posted by Elizabeth Lasensky
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 29, 2007 at 11:00 am

The anonymous postings above are full of anger and derision, but do not further the discussion.

You shouldn't post your incivility if you aren't willing to post your name.


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Posted by Historical Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 29, 2007 at 11:14 am

Dear Ms. Lasensky

Please "further the discussion" by telling us why the city should provide $500,000. for someone to help his mother move her dance studio out of a high rent facility. You see, I am seventeen years older than the Park Theatre and think of myself as a venerable city heritage. I am also in need of extensive restoration but think that half that amount from the city would cover most of the work.


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Posted by fan of Martin
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 29, 2007 at 11:55 am

Hear hear! Write that man a check!


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Posted by reconstructive fiscal face
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 29, 2007 at 12:47 pm

turns out a founding member of the Menlo Park Historical Society thinks the Park Theatre has limited historical preservation merit, just a big dilapidated quonset hut with a faux front, and city financing this fiasco is putting lipstick on a pig.


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Posted by Paul Collacchi
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2007 at 1:00 pm

As someone who somewhat reluctantly voted to earmark the $2.6M for Sequoia, I disagree slightly with Steve's assessment. Ours was a quid pro quo. The School District was supposed to guarantee the city hours and amounts of use, and it was meant to replace theater time lost with the demise of the Burgess Theater.

My reluctance then was whether we were getting enough use and control, and whether or not Menlo Park was really going to be able to fully replace what it lost -- Burgess Theater.

I do not see giving public money to the Park Theater tenant in the same way.

I also question whether a dance studio is really what people want there. When I was seated during a study session, then owner Howard Crittenden proposed a deal. For about $900k in public subsidies he would keep it a theater and keep his tenant, Landmark for 20 years.

Whether or not MP should use public cash in that way, at least Crittendens' deal sought to restore what was lost and what people clearly want to retain, an operating movie theater.

Finally, then and now, it is much better to transfer development rights, or have renovation of the Park Theater be done by private developers in a package of approvals.

The city should not be giving cash directly. Immediately across the street at 1300 El Camino is a developer who wants special approvals, and right down the street at Derry Lane is another project that asked for and got special approvals, and across the way in M-2 Bohannon is asking for the moon in exchange for a hotel.

We negotiated $2M in the Derry deal, above what Menlo Park was getting under the prior council's approvals, and even though the developer ultimately agreed to less development. They gave more and got less.

How hard can it be to have some developer renovate the Park Theater as part of a larger package of approvals? And in my opinion, it should be *only* for restoring a working theater.


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Posted by Elizabeth Lasensky
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 29, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Thank you Mr. Collacchi for the background on the deal with the school district. This is the sort of information that is helpful to the discussion. I appreciate the respectful tone of your posting, providing your views without being insulting or demeaning.

I happen to agree with you that the Park Theater should be restored through private or maybe non-profit methods to be a working theater, which could perhaps accommodate both movies and performing arts. And I think we have the possibility of that in our community.


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Posted by Senior moment
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 30, 2007 at 2:13 pm

I certainly remember the building's facade and marquee, but it's been a long time since I've seen the inside of the Park Theater. If memory serves, it was not the most attrative of movie houses.

Can someone with a fresher memory remind me of what it is about the interior that is architecturally or historically interesting?


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Posted by just my opinion
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 30, 2007 at 10:37 pm

If the building were going to be used as a theatre, I could imagine a case could be made for why it might benefit Menlo Park's business and tax base by attracting more customers to Menlo Park and be worth subsidizing (sort of like the Stanford Shopping Center subsidizes the rent for Sigona's). But (no offense to Mr. Duncan or the dance studio) if it's not going to be used as a theatre again, I don't see the benefit to the taxpayers of getting the city financially involved in this . . .


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Posted by winter dellenbach
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2007 at 4:24 pm

I appreciate the comments of Collacchi, Schmidt and Lasensky and that they signed their names. Martin gets points for having a sense of humor.

May I correct some misinformation and provide some information as to the architectual/historical importance of the Park Theater which is 60 years old this month:

There have been 2 evaluations of the Theater conducted by 2 highly regarded preservation architectual firms. One paid for by Critttenden, the current owner, and one done by the architect hired by Duncan (considered to be possibly the foremost preservation architect in the State - Michael Gravaglia). Both arrived at similar conclusions after an exhaustive evaluation of the history and historical context, construction, architecture and ornamentation. I will speak mainly from the evaluation that Crittenden paid for since it is more detailed (about 50 pages including photos, as I remember. It is filed in the Planning Dept. if you want to look at it and is a great read).

I will start with one of several conclusions in the evaluation -
The Theater will almost certainly qualify for the National and State Registers of Historic Resouces as an intact Art Deco/Modern neighborhood movie house. To qualify for these Registers is no small thing and entail fulfilling many standards and qualification. Very little has been changed or lost inside or outside the Theater. Only the candy counter was added a few years after the opening in 1947.

The building is not a quontset hut. It is a rectangular building with a barrel vault ceiling. It is built as if it was met to endure for the ages. The immediate problem is that the architect believes the interior will literally not survive one more rainy season due to a leaking roof that has already damaged some of the inside and left the seats covered in gray mold (apparently the "good" kind rather than the "bad" kind, so it can be fairly easily dealt with). A largly new roof must be in place soon or the theater will be as good as gone through the owner's neglect. I tried my hardest to get the City to inspect the roof and ensure against this to little avail. So, there is an immediacy to getting this Theater in Duncan's hands who will roof it.

Duncan was in negotiations with Landmark and other movie groups to no avail. Landmard wanted to be there but only to screen films, not to lease the space!
I am involved with saving this Theater because I ache to see film there again. But the only way there is a chance that will happen in the future is to get it out of Crittenden's hands which will save the building. The dance studio will be constructed with glass walls and can be converted to a film or performing arts Theater in the future. I will keep my fingers crossed. In the meantime, a local family can do business there and MP will have a lovely building to take pride in with its gateway sign lite up and colorful again.

As to the method used to support this building is a matter of whatever works given how little time is left to save it from the rain.

Significant Architectual Features:
There are abstract cream, turquoise and rose decorative paintings spanning much of the barrel roof. Some of the original seats are still in place with the same colors banded on their sides. The custom made front doors are original. The terrazza paving at the entrance was considered very modern at the time and is in very good shape. The ticket booth and its etched Deco foliage on the glass of the intact tiled ticket booth is outstanding. The original tile across the front, the neon design under the overhang, on the marquee and sign (to be restored and put back into place) are really wonderful and were working until Crittenden tore the sign down and broke the neon illegally, resulting in a Cease and Desist Order from the City. The original sets of letters for the marquee have survived. And on and on. The neon was awarded a prestigious Neon Art Award by the Bay Area Art Deco Society days before the sign was torn down.

The Park Theater deserves support and creative thinking.


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Posted by not on my dime
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 1, 2007 at 9:19 pm

Winter, if the building is as fine and worthy of saving as you suggest, you should have no problem raising $500,000 to help preserve it.


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2007 at 7:58 am

winter:

You, winter/duncan/you/steve/menlo council, wrote that Landmark was ok with coming in but balked at the idea of leasing the space to a dance studio.

If the dance studio was a deal breaker, why in the world didn't you let the dance studio walk instead of Landmark????

If I wanted to operate a horse stable or coal mine, which is just as appropriate and brings as much value to greater menlo park as a private dance studio, and I approached Landmark, and they were interested, but did not want to share the theater with a horse stable or coal mine, and I sent them AnD their MONEY away... wouldn't that raise some eyebrows?????

I really really really really really don't understand why we are STILL talking about a *PRIVATE* Dance Studio!

I too want a movie theater, Winter. But I don't want it at the expense of public money. Especially if private money could be involved.

Not to get off topic, but think of what $500k could do at city hall. It could pay for 2 or 3 employees' salary, pay for a 7 year traffic study or pay some overtime.

Seriously though, a private enterprise should not demand or even be considered for such a grant. Furthermore, that private enterprise should not hinder legitimate private businesses from stepping in and making the building back into what it was supposed to be.

If all else fails, eminent domain the entire block.


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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 2, 2007 at 10:10 am

Let's look at this from an entirely different point of view. The roof leaks. Why is the owner of a leaking-roof building, which, without immediately intervention, creates a hazardous environment for anyone -- even including its inspectors -- permitted to let that happen? Is owner-negligence of property permitted by the city? The city can mandate serious tax consequences for un-rented property, neglected property, empty property. The now notorious ex-swim suit store is another example of this indifference. City codes can be written to require far greater responsible behavior for property owners. Many commercial property owners game the system with the hopes of increasing their returns on their investment, such as with tax write-offs, or eventual sales to developers, or some other scheme. They do so at a cost to the rest of us in the city. It does not have to be that way.


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Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 3, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Better ways to handle the Park Theater:


Thinking further about the Park Theater reveals that there are better ways to accommodate preservation
than going to the 'Bank of Menlo Park' for loans or grants. The first is covered by the Mills Act. This state mechanism allows cities and counties to forego a portion of property tax revenues to provide an incentive to a property owner to restore and maintain a property that has been placed on a register of historic properties. Rather than assessing the property at market rate, it is assessed according to a formula based on its income production, among other things. This should be lower than market value, and searches show that it yields a savings of around 50% off of property taxes. Of course the city would be getting less share of property tax from the property if it remained in its current status; the county would be more affected than the city. But this is the established process -- not grants or loans. For the city to grant or loan is one thing; but one would assume that this property would also qualify for tax abatements, exacerbating the city's financial exposure.


A close analogue to the Park Theater is the BrightEagle mansion on Noel Drive. This functions as commercial office space. City staff should confirm how this property was treated by the county and city for comparison.


A recent posting on the council email log about giving a $-per-square foot incentive from fees for historical property. This sounds eerily like the ill-fated '% for Arts' ordinance that was adopted and revoked. The %-for-Arts ordinance was well-intended, but it was mismanaged and misapplied. The baby was thrown out with the bathwater. I have said that this type of ordinance was meant for the types of projects we see, and will continue to see, on El Camino. If it was in effect, grants for historic preservation could arguably be funded by an arts ordinance.

Stu Soffer



Appendix:

From
Web Link


"The Mills Act is a preservation incentive adopted by California
in 1976 that allows reductions of property tax assessments for
historic properties if the owner signs a contract with the local
government agreeing to preserve the property, maintain its
historic characteristics, and, if necessary, restore the property
for single family residences or income producing commercial properties."

"Based on preliminary research and available data, the amount of
taxes saved by the property owner is more than what the city
loses, as the county absorbs the majority of the loss. Actual
savings are determined by the County Assessor following submittal
of the Mills Act Contract. Therefore, the actual amount of
revenue loss could not be determined until after entering
into the Mills Act Contract.

Two methods have been used to cap revenue losses to cities:
1) limiting the number of contracts per year; or
2) limiting the dollar amount of tax revenue losses per year (estimated).
If the City elects to use a dollar amount cap, two caps might be set, one for residential and one for commercial properties"



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Posted by investigator
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 3, 2007 at 7:25 pm

Mr. Soffer's idea of there being a real value in reducing the property tax for the Park Theater has little monetary value.

By the Co Tax Collector web site

Web Link


The current total tax bill on the property is 9379.00. Although not perfectly clear, this bill probably includes the garage which is also owned by Critttenden. The assessed value is currently $743,192, reflecting prop 13 valuations.

This is no solution. I personally don't why this issue is still alive. Any councilperson who supports a City donation for this private project will be thrown out of office when their term ends, if not before as the result of a recall.

As for the art ordinance, good riddance.

On watching the Monday council meeting, and seeing Mayor Fergusson make a comparison of the Park Theater to the Gatehouse in terms of historic value, what can one say.

Wise up council and get on to useful work.

investigator


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Posted by civil discourse
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 3, 2007 at 10:05 pm

I happen to agree that it doesn't seem like a good idea to put public money into the Park, particularly if it's not going to become a working theater again. But instead of ridiculing members of the Council and threatening them with recall before they've even made a decision, can't we just articulate our points of view and let the strength of our arguments stand on their own merits?


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Posted by joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 4, 2007 at 8:59 am

If this goes through, I will participate in a recall effort. It is not enough to know that the ill-sighted council members won't get reelected.


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Posted by Sue Kayton
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 4, 2007 at 9:23 pm

If Winter, Kelly and friends want to "save" the Park Theater, they should buy it from Howard Crittenden. He bought that property years ago, intending to use the income from it to retire with. Either let him build what he wants on the property, or buy it from him. He's been trying for years to get permission to build something on the property that will benefit the city and provide him with income. He didn't buy the property as a charity!

It's interesting that the most vocal supporters of the Park Theater don't live in Menlo Park and don't pay taxes in our city. Of course, they want to spend OUR money.


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