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Riverbank ponders 3 Del Rio options

Whatever else happens, the Del Rio Theater marquee that has jutted into Riverbank's skyline for 60 years will remain. No one is sure about the rest of the building.

After the city bought the Del Rio, at Atchison and Third streets, in November 2006 for $1.7 million, artists and city staff noticed some building weaknesses. Some exterior walls are warped. The pipes are a mysterious web of plumbing from various owners' fixes and remodeling. There's mold in the walls.

"We knew it needed some TLC, we just didn't know the extent," Community Development Director J.D. Hightower said.

Now, city staff and a committee of residents are considering three options:

Renovate

Renovate a portion of the building and demolish the rest

Demolish the entire building, save the marquee and put it back up after building a new theater

"The awakening will come when we look at the costs," City Manager Richard Holmer said. "It may be less expensive to demolish the building than remodel it."

The restaurant portion of the Del Rio building remains open, but the theater closed after the Rio Arts production of "Miracle on 34th Street" ended Dec. 23. Holmer estimates it will be at least two years before the theater is ready to host another show.

"I'd imagine it would need a serious amount of work," Mayor Chris Crifasi said. "The use of the word 'demolish' was a little surprising to me. I don't want to see a historic building come down."

Demolition is an option being considered for cost comparison. City officials will decide the building's future after more inspections.

According to an October 2006 inspection report by R&S Tavares Associates Inc. of Riverbank, the building needs several repairs and upgrades, but was "in fair overall condition."

The city has spent $55,096 on the building since buying it. That money has paid for inspections, various upgrades, an alarm system, mold remediation and maintenance, Economic Development Manager Debbie Olson said.

As repair costs continued to add up and plays were staged in the theater, people started wondering whether it's worthwhile to proceed with original plans to renovate the building. It may need an expansion to become the cultural center city officials want it to be. City officials knew Riverbank theater groups and artists were interested in the Del Rio, but groups from around the region showed interest in it during the six months it was open for community productions and events, Olson said.

During that period, city officials learned more about the extent of work the building would need to help draw people downtown.

If the building is demolished and another goes up in its place, the new building would be inspired by the original, Hol-mer said. But he thinks the most likely scenario is a partial remodeling and partial demolition.

"We really want to save as much of the original structure and '40s charm as we can," he said.

There is not a specific plan for the building, so there is no budget either. One will be established after council members approve a plan.

"No amount has been discussed yet," Holmer said. "We're waiting for architects to get in there. They're the experts."

The final plans likely will include expanding the theater to host larger shows, Holmer and Olson said.

"We aren't trying to provide a Gallo complex, but we do want a functional facility. We need something in this area," Holmer said.

Whatever the Del Rio's fate, city officials see the theater and the marquee that has clung to it for 60 years as an integral part of Riverbank's artistic community and gateway to downtown.

"There's a benefit here that doesn't equate to dollars," Olson said. "It's an investment."

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.

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