Church owners could be the Senator saviors

CHURCH VISION <br>Eric Enns, the 29-year-old pastor of the City Light church, says it’s a shame the Senator Theatre has fallen into disrepair over the years and hopes his congregation can play a role in restoring it.

Eric Enns, the 29-year-old pastor of the City Light church, says it’s a shame the Senator Theatre has fallen into disrepair over the years and hopes his congregation can play a role in restoring it.

Photo By Tom Angel

Jesus in the house: Movie houses becoming houses of worship has become a trend in Chico in recent years, as Calvary Chapel moved into the old Cinemark Movies 10 near the Chico Mall and the Butte Bible Fellowship began holding services in the former U.A. Cinemas theater on Pillsbury Road, even adding a steeple in recent weeks.

It’s not a done deal by any means, but Pastor Eric Enns is excited by the possibility that his church could find a new home inside the historic, dilapidated Senator Theatre.

“Our goal is to tear it down and erect a big cross,” joked Enns.

All kidding aside, Enns’ church is negotiating with Senator owner Eric Hart to occupy the theater portion of the building.

“If we go through with it, it will probably be a lease with an option to buy,” Enns said. “I hope it works.”

Enns’ church was known as the Pleasant Valley Assembly of God, but recently the church leaders and congregation decided to amicably split from the denomination and form the City Light church. Enns, who had been on the church staff for six years, took over as pastor from his father, Gaylord Enns.

DNA, the local concert organizer who has been heading up the Right Now Foundation, said he’s not disappointed that another group may get a crack at restoring the theater.

“I feel like the weight is off my shoulders,” said DNA, who for nearly three years had struggled to convince Hart to sell the foundation the theater portion of the building at a lower price. In May, Hart ordered the group out. “I’ve spent all summer letting go,” DNA said.

“We’ll share any information we have,” he said. “Our goal has always been to see that building renovated.”

The art deco theater was built in 1927 and has been repeatedly tabbed by Chico historians and patrons of the arts as a potential location for a community arts center.

Enns said the church is eager to learn more about the history of the building and wants the Right Now Foundation volunteers to remain involved, if possible. “I was really rooting for those guys to get it,” he said. It was only when he realized that wasn’t going to happen that the church started aggressively pursuing the property.

He said that church occupancy or ownership wouldn’t spell an end to concerts and other events held there. “We’re only going to use it on Sunday mornings,” he said. “I’d love to see the community in there. … I’d like to have all kinds of music in there.”

Enns said the church is well aware that it will cost a lot to renovate the building, beginning with the heating and air-conditioning system. How much the project will cost will determine how much the church can get done and on what timeline. “We want to renovate it,” he said.

Hart has begun work on the outside of the building, removing features that were obscuring decorative windows and otherwise restoring the building to how it looked in the 1940s. An ultimate goal is to return the historic Senator Tower, which since 1999 has been stored at a city yard, to its position atop the structure.

Hart also plans to construct a new building to the right of the theater along Main Street. While Hart, who bought the entire building in 2000, did not return calls for comment, DNA has said an asking price for the theater alone was once set at $750,000. DNA also predicted renovations could run $4.3 million.

The church could finance an eventual purchase by selling nearly 20 acres of land it owns at Humboldt and Bruce roads. The Pleasant Valley Assembly of God had purchased the land in 1988 hoping to build a new church there, but environmental constraints related to Butte County meadowfoam and other roadblocks delayed and eventually stopped those plans. The land also overlaps into the contaminated Humboldt Dump area.

Enns said the church, which has about 200 congregants, is outgrowing its home at 3015 Cohasset Road. Besides that, it’s “off the beaten path,” and the church would like to be more accessible to student members and others who might be more likely to attend if services were held downtown.

“I love downtown," he said.