City will wait for new councilmembers before deciding on ARPA funds expenditures

Could Sierra Theatre become a performing arts center?

Correction: The Susanville City Council will not take action on the expenditure of ARPA funds at its March 20 meeting as original reported in this post. The item was tabled until after the newly elected council members take office. Lassen News regrets the error.

Local residents packed City Hall for the Tuesday, March 6, Susanville City Council meeting hoping to celebrate a $1 million agreement between the city and the Susanville Symphony Society that would allow the purchase of Sierra Theatre on Main Street as a performing arts center. The theatre could be purchased for $400,000, and the other $600,000 would be used for renovations, improvements and operating capital. The council did not agendize the item for action. It was a discussion item only. The council gave direction to staff, based upon the staff report, to agendize an action item regarding the expenditure of $2.6 5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds at a future meeting after the newly elected councils is seated, including possible support of the restoration work at the Susanville Elks Lodge.

Mayor Quincy McCourt said, “I am 100 percent convinced that the Sierra Theatre movement is the shift this community will need for its survival, for its opportunity to thrive and to take us to the next level …

“Our direction to staff would be listen to what everybody said and make it happen. Figure out how to incorporate the Elks Lodge. As a community, we benefit by adopting a make it happen mentality. We don’t need to be a community that waits around for all the dots to be connected. That’s what we have been. We’ve been waiting for the dots to be connected forever … This is our opportunity.”

He said everyone should “focus (and) emphasize what the agreement looks like, make it solid, protect the investment for the people, (and) figure out how to incorporate the Elks Lodge as well.”

“No matter what we do, we’re going to make some people happy and others not so happy,” said Councilmember Russ Brown.

Councilmember Mendy Schuster said more specific information is needed on the proposed agreement between the city and the symphony. She also pointed out newly elected councilmembers may be seated by March 20. She said the decisions facing the council are really hard because there have been so many requests for funding, and they’re all important.

Councilmember Kevin Stafford said the Elks Lodge should be the highest priority. He also suggested paying down the city’s debt and taking care of city’s buildings. And he said we need to know about the symphony’s long-term plan.

Several members of the public, including Susanville Symphony Maestro Ben Wade expressed their disappointment that the council did not take the action they expected on the purchase of Sierra Theatre at Tuesday’s meeting.

After listening to the public and discussing the matter for nearly three hours, the council returned to Business from the Floor (public comment) when Wade spoke.

“I am disappointed we’re kicking the can so to speak,” Wade said. “I understand it, OK? The community’s hopes rest upon your shoulders … I’ve crunched the numbers, and if we have three performances, three nights that that theatre is use per month, we will easily make the payments. The Symphony’s in it to win it. We’ve done it so far. I’d give up my salary to see the theatre continue to go. So, I think the longevity is there … I see the bigger picture, right? I appreciate the concerns. We’re all here because we want one thing. We want what’s best for this community … What is great for the city of Susanville is to see a performing arts center. We’re going to run it. We’re going to be successful. I want it to be worded in the contract as I told Mr. Newton, that if anything happens at any time 50 years down the road — I’m 102 at that point — anything happens down the road 50 years from now, the city would then take ownership, so there’s no loss there. We’re going to win. We’re going to succeed, and as I said I appreciate everybody’s comments, concerns, questions. I appreciate the community’s support … Let’s make it great. Let’s make it better. Let’s build it. They will come.”

Lassen News asked City Manager Dan Newton to release any information he could regarding the contract Wade mentioned.

“I don’t specifically recall Ben’s statement,” Newton responded, “but there has been no conversation regarding loaning money to the Symphony Society or a payback term. However, we have discussed creating a mechanism where the building ownership would be transferred to the city if the symphony society dissolved at future date. No formal discussions have taken place regarding the mechanism, but it would probably be an agreement.”