Saving the Senator
New tenant’s renovation of historic theater nearly complete
A Chico landmark is getting another lease on life—and this time the person in charge is sure it will really happen.
Damon Fadale, a 34-year-old builder/developer, has signed a two-year lease on the historic Senator Theater and said he is a month away from completing renovations.
Fadale said he approached Eric Hart, who’s owned the building since 2000, after seeing deals with the nonprofit Right Now Foundation and later a church group fall through.
Fadale is confident the project will be “100 percent complete” in time for grand opening performances on April 30. The Senator sign was scheduled to be returned on Friday and the marquee and famous tower, which was removed and stored in a city yard in 1999, are expected to follow.
“We’ll probably be one of the biggest concert venues between Sacramento and Redding,” he said. The downtown theater has about 1,000 seats and has been opened up to expose the balcony area. The first few rows could be removable, allowing for a dance floor.
Schools, churches and the city would be allowed to use the facility for free, while nonprofits could get a discounted rate, Fadale said.
But he expects the bread-and-butter of the operation will be rock acts.
DNA, the music promoter who had leased the Senator and undertaken renovations three years ago, had assembled a group of historically minded volunteers who hoped to see the 1927 theater restored and used as a community arts center.
DNA said that if that goal is achieved he’s happy no matter who does it. “It’s obvious to anyone who was involved with our project that nobody would have been able to come in and do anything if we hadn’t done all the preliminary work,” he said. “If the building had remained abandoned to this point, the water, fire and vandalism would have desecrated it so much that we would not be having this conversation about a new tenant.”
While DNA’s relationship with Hart ultimately disintegrated—the foundation stopped paying rent, feeling misled about the condition of the building, and was kicked out in May 2003—Fadale said he and Hart are getting along well. Hart said in an e-mail that while he wishes DNA and his business partner, Kirk Johnson, well, “they do not and will not have any ties to the theater or any future lessees.” “With the future plans I have for the Senator building and the new building next to the Senator, the Right Now Foundation no longer fits into the plan. I would never sell the building to this group,” Hart said.
Fadale is a Chico High School graduate and father of two who has developed residential and commercial properties in Paradise. “I was very educated [on the Senator’s condition] before I got into it,” he said. “I spent a lot of time doing due diligence.”
Fadale’s contractors have already installed a $3,000 sump pump in the damp basement, fixed two HVAC units (more will be added later), torn out a 70-foot I-beam with a crane and patched the ceiling. Damage done by former owner United Artists was repaired, including the reconstruction of ornamental wall coverings. Fadale also plans to copy existing overhead light fixtures to replace a missing art deco original.
“The hard part’s over,” Fadale said. “Now, it’s all academic.”
Fadale wouldn’t disclose how much he’s invested in the project. “I’m paying for the inside. [Hart] is paying for the outside,” he said.
He said his experience in construction, combined with a background in music publishing, equip him both to restore the theater and manage it as a for-profit venture.
“After all that’s gone down, can’t we just have fun?”