Children’s theater gets 90 day reprieve

Just like Cinderella at Prince Charming’s ball, the clock is ticking toward midnight for the Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company.

In a twist that could have come directly from one of the Playhouse’s melodramas, the Visalia City Council has granted the group 90 days to come up with a plan to purchase their longtime home, the Main Street Theater. The property is located at the southeast corner of Main and Garden streets.

The Minimum Bid

A surprised and delighted board of directors–and the supporters of the Valley’s only children’s theater company, who filled the audience during the Council’s July 16 meeting and witnessed the last-minute decision–now have until mid-October to secure funding and beat the only other viable bid for the one-time movie house. The theater has served as home to the EPTC since the early 1990s.

“We are very confident we can come up with the amount the city is asking for the building,” said Shanna Meier, a member of the ETPC’s board.

The city’s 18-page set of instructions for bidders demands a minimum offer for the theater of no less than $450,000.

An Unsettled Matter

Until the Council reversed itself, it the matter appeared settled, a buyer had been secured, and the EPTC would was going to start looking for a new home.

A meeting with the city for would-be buyers was held in February, and all bids were supposed to be in the city’s hands no later than April 20. Two bids, one of which did not meet the minimum, were submitted, with the EPTC board declining to make an offer, citing a price that was outside its budget.

What appeared to be the winning bid–$515,000 according to Meier–was posted by the Legacy Group, a Visalia-based real estate development firm owned by J.R. Shannon, who finds himself in an unusual position.

“I am the successful RFP (request for proposal) bidder,” he said. “I was awarded the bid by the city, and we were getting ready to start the purchase agreement, then I was told we have to bring this back to Council for a vote, and that’s what happened the other night.”

Shannon still hopes to execute that purchase agreement. The bidding process already represents a costly outlay for him.

“Unfortunately, I need to sit and wait 90 days to see what the group (EPTC) comes up with,” Shannon said. “I’m disappointed obviously. A lot of money and time has been invested in this. It’s a little frustrating.”

Kicking Some Concepts

If Legacy Group purchases the Main Street Theater, the one thing it won’t remain is a theater.

“It’ll be converted into a retail use,” said Shannon. “It could consist of restaurants or retail shops. I have a few different concepts I’m kicking around. It’s a great location in downtown. I love the building.”

The city’s instructions make it clear to bidders that how they intend to use the building will be taken into consideration when the final award is made. Besides price, those weighing bids for the Main Street look at economic feasibility and benefit of the new owner’s plan for the building, whether they intend to maintain the original facade, and whether the intended future use will draw more visitors downtown.

“Typically for the review committee, they will review and rank the proposals,” said Deputy City Manager Mario Cifuentez. “Then they look at the (offer) price.”

Cifuentez is overseeing the RFP process at City Hall.

So far, Shannon is living up to the “legacy” in Legacy Group’s name, preserving some of the city’s unique downtown buildings with his previous projects.

“I’ve successfully converted some other buildings, Barrelhouse Brewing (521 E. Main Street). We’re working on Zach’s next door,” he said. “I like keeping them around so the next generation can enjoy their architectural beauty.”

‘We Definitely Have a Plan’

While they certainly intend to try, if the EPTC cannot outbid Legacy Group, the show will go on.

“We do have a plan. We definitely have a plan,” said Meier. “We’re not going anywhere.”

In the the theater business, size matters.

The Playhouse’s board has looked at alternative sites, but all of them are much smaller than the Main Street Theater.

That would limit the number of children the group can host at its productions.

“It’ll be the capacity that will be effected,” said Meier. “We are the only specifically children’s theater in the Valley. We have 14,000 students come and watch our shows a year on field trips. We wouldn’t have the capacity if we weren’t in the Main Street Theater.”

Making a Bid

The EPTC will have a proposal in the city’s hands by the extended deadline in mid-October.

How much they’ll offer will depend on how much they can borrow. They’re raising the funds needed to secure financing now. Per their lease, the theater group continues to pay the city $3,000 a month for the theater’s use.

“We are currently working with legal council to come up with a bid, so we haven’t figured out exactly what we’re offering,” said Meier. “We’ll be looking at the appraisal, at the other bid amount, so we’re not sure yet.”

EPTC has started fundraising, though just barely, but are well on their way to reaching their first goal.

“With actual money in hand, we’ve probably raised at least $5,000 so far. We have pledged for quite a bit more,” Meier said. “We’re about a quarter of the way to where you need to be to get financing.”

They’ll be counting on their fans and the population at large to help them raise the money for the down payment they’ll need to get a loan. EPTC is taking direct donations through at

The Show Goes On

If they can secure the space, the Main Street Theater will need some work to keep the doors open. The building’s air conditioning is ancient and works poorly, and there are accessibility issues that must be addressed, yet there is no better space in Visalia for the work EPTC does.

“It’s in usable condition,” Meier said. “There’s a lot of things that could be approved upon.”

The group is also concerned with the building’s aethetic.

“We would love to have that building look like it did when it was first built,” Meier said.

In the meantime, another show has been added to the group’s season in light of the Council’s decision to delay the sale.

“With the city giving us additional time, we are having a production opening October 5, Once Upon a Panadora’s Box,” Meier said. “It’s a show with a brother and sister, two children who have just moved into this apartment. They come across this box, and when they open it they let loose all these fairy tale villains loose on New York.”

The play has a happy ending, of course, and the Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company is hoping for one of it’s own. They’ll find out this autumn.

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