By Corey Pride

Novato Advance

Last week city staff was directed to explore the possibility of underwriting a $3 million line of credit for reconstruction of the Novato Theater.

Theater officials, who have tried for years to rebuild the 72-year-old Grant Avenue facility, have asked the council to cosign for repayment to the Bank of Marin. The loan would be used to complete the final phases of the project and pay for the first three years of its operations.

“Outside of this plan, I personally do not know how else to get this theater built and opened,” Novato Theater board President Keith Greggor told the council Oct. 9. “I have not found any community group or individual who doesn’t support the theater in principle. The majority don’t care how it’s done. They just want it done and now.”

According to Greggor, if the theater defaults on the line of credit his group would give the property to the city. Currently the theater is worth $700,000, but fully renovated it will be a $5 million asset, he said.

The 488-seat theater opened in 1946 and closed in 1991. Through the years there have been several attempts to restore the theater. They all failed. The Novato Theater nonprofit group formed in 2012 and subsequently purchased the property from the city. Building codes required that the theater be rebuilt, a process that started in 2016 but was soon halted due to lack of funding.

City Manager Regan Candelario said Novato has contributed $1.5 million through the years to rebuilding the theater. Councilwoman Pat Eklund disagreed, stating the city has actually put $3 million in the project because the $1.5 million does not include staff time and other expenses.

Eklund said she wants more information about how underwriting a loan would impact the city’s debt limit.

“I need to look at the financial implications for the city,” she said. “We need to know what is the level of risk. If there is a level of risk we need to have a plan in case there is a default. We don’t have a plan.”

The theater would host both movies and performance arts, which all city officials have expressed favor toward as a way to attract people to downtown.

Candelario said officials at Bank of Marin are open to the Novato Theater group’s proposal.

The city council voted 4-0 - Councilman Eric Lucan recused himself because he owns property in the area - to have city staff come back before year’s end with multiple options for assisting the theater with obtaining the loan.

Contact Corey Pride at cpride@marinscope.com

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