City Council approves final reading for sale of the Main Street Theater to restaurant developer
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Since a crowd of supporters packed the Visalia Convention Center on July 16, the number of people pleading with the Visalia City Council not to sell the Main Street Theater has dwindled to two.
At its Nov. 5 meeting, the City Council heard from a candidate for city council and the attorney representing the Enchanted Playhouse Theater Co. (EPTC) in an 11th hour effort to stop the sale of the Main Street Theater, which has served home to children’s theater company for the last 20 years.
John Rozum, attorney for EPTC, reiterated the theater company’s legal position that the sale of the Main Street Theatre to anyone other than them would violate state law. The city’s 2004 resolution of necessity for eminent domain to buy the Main Street Theatre specifically listed the “public use and purpose” for the property to “ensure that children’s entertainment and live theater entertainment in general continues to be provided in the subject area of downtown Visalia.” According to the statute, EPTC argues that in order to sell the property the city must develop a new resolution of necessity showing that the property no longer fits the use for which it was originally taken over.
“We are asking to in the facility that is appropriate for us and that furthers our mission,” Rozum said.
The City Council, staff, and others in the arts field had suggested EPTC could find a new home for practices and props and then rent out one of the other theaters in town for their productions, such as the Visalia Fox Theater, L.J. Williams Theater, or Rotary Theater, all of which are located in the downtown area. Rozum said if these facilities were an option for the children’s theater company then the city would not have an approved the resolution in 2004 stating that “Retaining the Main Street Theater as a live-entertainment facility is vital to the long-term vitality and continued expansion of the downtown. No other facilities currently exist in the downtown area that can serve the same purposes as the Main Street Theater.”
“All of these existed in 2004 when the city found that no other facility was as important,” Rozum said. “There is no expiration date on the findings the city made in 2004.”
Steve Woods, a candidate for the city council and vice chair of the Visalia Parks and Recreation Commission, said he had many discussions with people in his district as well as the rest of the city who did not like the council’s decision to sell the Main Street Theater.
“Not one said they appreciated or agreed with the decision,” Woods said.
There was no discussion by the city council, which had already voted once to sell the Main Street Theater, 307 E. Main St., and had already given EPTC an extra 90 days to raise the money as well as a court ruling settling on back rent and negotiating a move out date of Jan. 30, 2019. Any ordinance authorizing the sale of the property requires a four-fifth’s vote both on the first reading and second reading. The second reading was unanimously approved by the council on Nov. 5.
The sale of the building will take effect on Dec. 5 when the city will officially accept an offer of $515,000 from Legacy Investments. JR Shannon, the sole owner of Legacy Investments, wrote in his proposal he had already received a letter of interest from a “large restaurant tenet” interested in half of the 8,000 square foot property for “a new conceptual restaurant that we currently don’t have in Visalia.” He said the restaurant expects to hire 50-75 new employees, with the possibility of more for a catering arm of the business, and project $1.5 to $2.5 million in annual taxable sales. He stated that this tenant had already agreed to work with Enchanted Playhouse to host fundraising events for the theater company.
He went on to say that he is already in negotiations with another restaurant to lease the other half. Shannon also proposed using a 10-15 foot portion of the Garden Street Plaza as an outdoor patio area long the west wall of the building. In keeping with the RFP issued by the city, Shannon stated that the building’s front façade and Main Street Theater signage would remain and even be repaired. He also expressed interest in keeping the ticket sales window of the theater for some sort of use by the tenant. Shannon said he was ready to begin construction in August and have the building open by spring 2019.
Shannon now has 120 days to submit a plan for reconfiguring the building to the city’s Site Plan Review and then 60 days to begin construction following Site Plan approval. If the timelines are not met, the city has the right to terminate the agreement and buy the property back for less than $25,000.