Idea of city purchasing Sierra Theatre as a performing arts center gains more traction

The Susanville City Council discussed the possible expenditure of about $2.5 million in unspent American Rescue Plan Act monies for more than two hours at its Wednesday, Feb. 21 meeting.

Could Sierra Theatre become a performing arts center? Stay tuned.

The council didn’t make any decisions but took the opportunity to listen to more than an hour of public comment — the bulk of public commenters expressing their support for the idea of the council giving $1million in ARPA funds to the Lassen Symphony Society to convert Sierra Theatre into a performing arts venue. City Manager Dan Newton said he and staff would try to have more information to present to the council for its March 6 meeting.

Councilmember Mendy Schuster raised questions and concerns about the process being followed by the council and again asked that the item be tabled and left for the new council to decide. She also wanted more precise numbers on the cost to repair the city facilities.

Shuster said the city is still at the “tip of this iceberg,” and she has concerns that haven’t even been addressed yet. “I think we need to address what the city is going to ask of the recipients. We haven’t talked about that. We need time to further discuss this and time to get advice from (the city attorney). Are we going to have to do a contract and follow up? We don’t even know what we’re talking about … Does the city just hand over the money? … Does the city want an interest in any of those projects? If we pay off these loans with a low interest rate, is there a situation where we could end up having to borrow more money at a higher interest rate? Let me say it again. Three of you are going to be gone before this comes to fruition. I’d still appreciate it if we could table this until the next council is seated … there’s more involved later that we’re going to have to look at. I just don’t want your hopes to get really high and when we come back after we get legal advice on the contract, and you may not like it.”

Mayor Quincy McCourt said now is the time for the city council to act. He said if the city uses the ARPA funds and fire funding from PG&E, the council can pay off its debt, make repairs, fund the performing arts center and handle all the other requests for funding that have arisen.

“There’s no reason, absolutely no reason to pass this decision on,” McCourt said. “We can begin now, that’s the consensus — that’s my consensus of my thoughts, you don’t want to hear the others.”

Shuster questioned McCourt’s perspective on the PG&E money.

“I don’t think it’s a free-for-all,” she said.

Public comment|
Realtor Larry Smith called the performing arts center a great project that will benefit the city of Susanville. He said Sierra Theatre is valued at $500,000 but he has a letter of intent from the seller for $400,000. He said the remaining funds would be used for the title, closing costs and five years of operating costs.

“I think the project is essential to Uptown,” Smith said.

Kayla Miller, an instructor at the Susanville Academy (part of the Susanville Symphony Society) who teaches music to residents of all ages said since the academy doesn’t have a permanent home, instructors frequently spend as much time hauling and setting up equipment as they do playing music. She said modifications of the facility would be necessary to make it suitable for everyone who might want to use the facility.

Ben Wade, the symphony’s maestro and artistic director, said momentum is growing in the community for the performing arts center, and he quipped he could probably bring 1,000 people with him to the next council meeting.

“I think we’re going to knock it out of the park with economic development and sustainability with community impact and community input,” Wade said. “That’s my goal. I’m going to be short and sweet tonight. It’s been a true momentum shift that I’ve seen in the community. I’ve updated the business proposal so you can see exactly where we’d like to spend the money. I’ve revisited the sound and lighting and took a tour of the theatre. It’s doable. It’s possible.”

Lassen County District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher said “This million could go a long way,” and “Uptown really needs a primer.” He said he’s always wanted to bring a performing arts center to Lassen County, and once Uptown is revitalized, people from other cities will come.

Best of Broadway’s Carla Dollar noted the upcoming 25th opening night for Best of Broadway. She called this “an amazing opportunity,” and said it’s important everyone in the community have access to the proposed performing arts center. She said Best of Broadway would require a number of modifications to the facility — a bigger stage, dressing rooms, theatre lights and amazing sound.

City Council candidate Curtis Bortle said we need things to keep people here and improve the quality of life in Lassen County.

“These things are important,” Bortle said.

City Council candidate Maria Fregulia said the ARPA funds were meant as replacement money during the COVID-19 pandemic, and repairs should be the first priority along with paying off the debt. She said those supporting the performing arts center could find a foundation to help with funding.

City Council candidate Dawn Miller said she agreed with Fregulia that repairs, debt and infrastructure should be the top priorities.

“It’s nice to give it (money) away,” but the city should handle those responsibilities and then “see what’s left over.”

Other requests for funding brought up at the meeting included puncture vines eradication, the old Catholic church in Constantia, the Elks Lodge and replacing the Lassen County Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas tree.