Theater revamp a hot ticket in Menlo Park

Controversial plans to restore and reopen the Park Theater have become one of the most divisive topics in town, earning the City Council plenty of public criticism — and even a Web site calling for the recall of three council members who backed the plan.

City Hall’s inboxes have been flooded with e-mails for the last three months, most of them opposing thecouncil’s 3-2 vote Oct. 2 in favor of spending $2.4 million in city funds to purchase the shuttered movie theater.

If the deal goes forward, Menlo Park would then purchase the theater from resident Andy Duncan and lease it back to him. He hopes to restore the venue and make a new home for the long-running Menlo Park Academy of Dance.

The proposal has residents riled.

“To consider using public funds for a public enterprise that will benefit an infinitesimal percentage of Menlo Park taxpayers is an insult to the majority,” resident Catherine McMillan said. “Those who are gung-ho about saving the building might consider raising funds for it in the way that Kepler’s [bookstore] did — privately.”

While Duncan’s restoration plan has been underway in Menlo Park since the summer, a new proposal from resident Tom Hilligoss — who would have funded his restoration privately — appears to have fizzled.

“As of yesterday afternoon, in another meeting with [Park Theater owner] Howard Crittenden, he informed me that he is not going to continue our negotiation in favor of moving forward with Andy Duncan,” Hilligoss told the City Council in a letter Oct. 18.

For now, that leaves only Duncan’s controversial proposal on the table.

RecallFergie.com, launched quietly Oct. 25, is testing public interest in a recall of Mayor Kelly Fergusson and Councilmembers Richard Cline and Heyward Robinson — the trio who voted Oct. 2 in favor of the Duncan plan.

“My goal was to save the park theater and do something nice for the community,” Duncan said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would get to this point, and I’m really sorry that it is.”

Meanwhile, the recall targets are trying to maintain their focus on city business, Fergusson said.

“I haven’t been giving it any thought,” Fergusson said. “What matters is that’s best for the city,and councilmembers can’t let this sort of thing distract them.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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