Inspired by the success of recent temporary re-openings of the downtown Granada Theater for an international film festival and winter holiday events, a grass-roots group of Morgan Hill business owners and residents is hoping to get the venue operational on some sort of part-time, ongoing basis.
Since the vacant theater is just sitting there, and use of the property is limited due to litigation involving its owner and the state of California, someone might as well make as much use of the once-popular movie venue as possible, the proponents reason.
“We’re trying to create a venue that is not in competition with CineLux or the (city-owned) Community Theater (on the south end of downtown), but something that is unique to the community, where we show old movies, comedy shows, live theater - but in a much smaller, more intimate atmosphere,” said Morgan Hill resident John Liegl, who is heading up the effort.
The theater cannot be permanently reopened yet due to structural concerns and the lack of disabled-accessible bathrooms. And extensive work cannot be performed on the theater due to an agreement signed by the property’s owner - the Morgan Hill Economic Development Corporation - to limit any modifications or potential sale of the theater due to ongoing litigation.
But the theater’s proponents don’t see any reason why the Granada can’t be used during occasional weekends to draw crowds downtown. Possible uses could range from classic movie showings, to live performances and even community or school assemblies, Liegl said.
Hopefully, such a strategy could provide some needed economic stimulus to downtown shops and restaurants, Liegl said.
“We would like to see the theater become a hub to the downtown businesses so we can see our businesses grow,” said Liegl, who is not a business owner. “I have seen so much happen that is negative for the businesses, and I would like to see (them) become more prosperous. It’s been like a rotating door with most of the businesses down here, and only a few have been able to stay and work through it.”
Brad Jones, co-owner of BookSmart at Depot and Second Street, has said that when the Granada was open as a full-time movie theater, before 2003, it regularly brought visitors downtown not only to catch a film, but to grab dinner and perhaps linger among nearby shops.
He and other theater proponents cite the recent success of the Poppy Jasper Film Festival, which was held at the Granada Theater in October 2012; and the screening of Christmas movies one weekend in December as evidence that the venue retains its allure.
Proponents of the Granada’s reopening have to convince the EDC to allow its part-time use. The theater was one of several properties purchased by the City’s now-defunct Redevelopment Agency in 2008, with the intent to revitalize the whole block with a mixed-use retail, office and residential complex.
However, the state of California closed the RDA last year, and now the City, EDC and state are embroiled in a complicated legal battle over the viable use of the Granada and other properties the EDC owns downtown. The state says the EDC must return the properties to the City, which must liquidate those properties as soon as possible in order to funnel cash back to schools, public safety and other basic services.
The EDC and City are trying to resist the State’s orders, claiming they are illegal.
If the State gets its way, and the theater is ordered to be sold to the highest bidder - a process that won’t begin any time in the identifiable future - Jones even mentioned the possibility of finding some investors to purchase the property and refurbish it as a full-time theater.
“If the building could be purchased, we could bring some name-brand single live acts to Morgan Hill,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of things that could come to town if we have control of the property, and some money.”