Golden State Theatre Owner Pitches 50-50 Deal to City of Montere

Starving Artists: Warren Dewey, who owns the Golden State Theatre, says a public-private ownership is the only way to keep the place going. “It doesn’t seem to be practical for someone to try to make money on this in a small town,” he says.

Warren Dewey has a thing for old theaters, and a decade ago he was on the hunt across California to buy one. He settled on Golden State Theatre on Monterey’s Alvarado Street, which he purchased for $2.5 million.

“There was just something magical about it,” Dewey says.

He still feels that magic sometimes. But after his own music promotion business slowed during the recession and his latest tenant, Scott Grover, fell behind on rent, Dewey’s now looking to sell the theater for $4.9 million.

The 1926 theater has been on the market for years. Dewey’s broker, Ryan Flegal, says some prospective buyers have shown interest, though he won’t reveal any details. (The asking price was reduced from $8 million.)

Now, Dewey is offering the place to the city of Monterey for half off. “For 50 percent of the purchase price, Monterey would retain 100 percent of the decisions in how the theatre [sic] is used,” according to a proposal Dewey submitted to city officials last week.

“Most people who invest in something like this want to make a profit,” Dewey says. “The city can look at it in a different way, in restaurants, shops and hotels doing better business.”

In Dewey’s vision, the city would collect a $5 historic preservation fee from ticket sales to maintain the theater. Instead of hiring a manager, local nonprofits like First Night Monterey and the Monterey Jazz Festival would move into the old theater and manage it themselves.

For his half of the ownership, Dewey would retain control of storefronts in the building, which include the space now occupied by Sushi Moto.

But the city’s not quite ready to buy. “We don’t have any money to spend on it at this point,” Assistant City Manager Mike McCarthy says. “Before considering financing plans, we’d ask, ‘Does it make sense for the city to own?’”

The city has considered acquiring the Golden State in the past, most recently with a 2003 analysis of combining it with the Monterey Conference Center.

“The purpose of the proposal is to create a win-win where the city can hold on to a significant lever for the downtown Monterey business community,” Flegal says. It’s a very low price, he adds, especially compared to the $32 million conference center remodel the city is considering.

Dewey thinks that’s a good reason for the city to invest in his venue. “The few times the theater got used by the conference center [to hold overflow crowds], it worked out great,” he says.

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