The small, historic Auburn Avenue Theater continues to work in downtown, appealing to its niche crowd. City officials, however, are pondering its future. REPORTER FILE PHOTO

The small, historic Auburn Avenue Theater continues to work in downtown, appealing to its niche crowd. City officials, however, are pondering its future. REPORTER FILE PHOTO

Council ponders options for Auburn Avenue Theater when lease is up

Convinced it was in the right place to play a part in the revitalization of the downtown core and poised to become a hot spot for musical performances, musical theater, dance, dramas and comedies, the City of Auburn in 2007 signed a 15-year-lease for the Auburn Avenue Theater.

As of early 2018, the City’s lease on the Auburn Avenue Theater is four years from expiring, but the Auburn City Council is already looking ahead, weighing what to do about the building when Dec. 31, 2021 comes and goes.

During a Monday workshop at City Hall, City staff provided council information and options to explore before that happens.

Daryl Faber, director of parks, arts and recreation for the City of Auburn, noted that theater lease payments continue to go up about 2 percent a year, and he doesn’t expect that to change much over the next few years. He said theater management has done a good job figuring out various methods of marketing the theater apart from too-spendy print.

“We’ve got a great Facebook page for this, we’ve got all kinds of social media methods for just getting to our current customers who have been at our theater the last couple of years,” Faber said. “Our attendance numbers keep going up without having to spend as much as we used to. Our interfund for facilities has stayed pretty stable – that pays the electrical bill and when we have to make improvements there. Our revenues have obviously gone up quite a bit in the last few years, an indicator that we have figured out where our niche is.

“We don’t own it, and we’re not in a super long lease, and so we are doing everything we can on that,” Faber added.

“I think this is like our airport: it’s kind of a gem, mostly because of its location,” said council member Largo Wales. “I keep pressuring us to get some closure on it because (the end of the lease) is only three years away and we do tend to move slowly because we are so careful, and we need to continue to be careful … so that we get the best deal for Auburn.”

Below are some of the “options and opportunities” Faber presented to the City Council.

• Renegotiate the present lease to get terms more favorable to the city, in that there is at present no option out and because of the age and condition of the building.

• Buy the theater and remodel it or rebuild at the site. The assessed value of the land is a bit over $250,000, Faber said, while “the value of the building is … negotiable.”

• Acquire property in the downtown or elsewhere along Main Street and build a new theater there.

• Form a potential public-private partnership downtown to achieve a civic theater.

Should the City decide to purchase, critical upgrades may number the addition of restrooms for performers, construction of a backstage greenroom and expansion of the lobby.

City officials insisted when they entered into the lease that the theater and its 220 seats could be influential, supporting businesses and services that thrive on nighttime activities and draw new development downtown, and that the $75,000 annual lease would be money well spent.

Some residents at the time hotly criticized the lease as a waste of money.

Since then, the City has managed the theater, producing events like youth and community theater, and bringing in comedy shows and private rentals. In the last five years, as the City has grown in its knowledge of what works and what really doesn’t at the theater.

“I really believe community theater is a quality of life issue in the town. Some people go to their sports events, for others it’s music and theater, a chance to build a set, to be around other kids, to gain confidence, and our theater has done a great job with that over the years,” Faber said.

The City runs the theater as its own project, paying for Theater Coordinator Jim Kleinbeck and 25 percent of theater supervisor Julie Krueger’s salary. Faber said with the theater drawing an annual 15,000 souls to the downtown, some from outside the city, local businesses like restaurants and coffee shops benefit, too.

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