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Council Votes 5-0 to Approve Theater Sale

Nonprofit group, which has raised more than $800,000, needs to hit at least $3 million before red carpets can be rolled out at long-closed Grant Avenue venue.

Clara Bowman said it’s a shame that the Novato Theater has been closed for as long as it has. Her late husband, Al Bowman, owned it for 45 years and leased its operation as a movie house. Clara Bowman said her husband was dedicated to Novato’s business community and would have loved to see it renovated and reopened.

“As far as I’m concerned, the community of Novato was his family,” she said. “That theater was his life. I’m 81 now and I would like to be around when it reopens.”

The Novato City Council gave that scenario a chance Tuesday by unanimously approving the $50,000 sale of the old theater at 924 Grant Ave. to a nonprofit group led by Bernice Baeza, executive director of the Lark Theater in Larkspur.

“This is so great,” said Judy Arnold, Marin County Supervisor for the fifth district, whose office contributed $150,000 of more than $800,000 already raised to renovate the building. “It would have been hard to have voted against it.”

Baeza said the council vote completed Phase 1 of the long-term project.

“Now we go into Phase 2, which is raising all the funds we need to do this right,” she said. “That will take up all of 2012. We’d like to break ground on the inside part of the job in fall 2013.”

Baeza credited the volunteers who spearheaded the initial fundraising campaign and said she is confident more donors will step forward as soon as escrow closes on the building.

“This won’t happen overnight,” she said, “but we have some strong momentum now. I have not heard any negative comments about this project, which makes be believe the community is behind us.”

The council approved the transaction after a long discussion about amendments to an earlier proposed agreement and details of the language on the resolution.

Bowman said she wanted the deal to be consummated as soon as possible. She worries that a bank trust, the executor of her estate, would pursue the furthest reaches of her assets and possibly initiate litigation. Bowman assures that she would not have sued the city over amendments on so-called air rights, or the rights to the area above the theater property that allow a buyer or developer to build up to a second story.

“I have a time limit because I don’t have any idea what my age limitations will be,” she said. “If it’s not settled while I’m alive, this could drag on and on. … My attorney and some of my family have said this isn’t in my best interests, but I said it’s not only in my best interest personally that this be settled but also in the best interest of the community of Novato, a community my husband spent so long supporting.”

Click here for coverage of this meeting in the . See that attached videos to hear what the council members had to say.

Travis Howard December 06, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Fantastic news!
Brant December 06, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Great news, but I certainly hope the sale of that property includes imposition of restrictions in the event the hoped-for fund raising does not work out. Selling the theater for $50K is only a good deal if it leads to its rehabilitation and to revitalization of the downtown area.

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