A sad saga
There is no one villain in the saga of the Sonora Armory, the much-hyped supposed savior of downtown that now will not open unless a new owner can be found. As with any project that goes bad, both sides bear some of the blame.
Was Doug Kennedy, the developer, too touchy over public opinion, too eager to pull the plug when things didn’t go his way? Seems like it.
How about his former tenant, Stage 3 Theatre, which had a long run in space that Kennedy came to own? They had to leave once the Armory construction began, which sent them scrambling for performance space. In turn, the relocation caused a revenue decline that made continued operation impossible. Might they have been able to work things out so they could go back into the beautiful space Kennedy has built? Possibly.
And government — did they need to put up roadblocks at the beginning with multiple public hearings before the planning commission? That set the whole project off on a negative note, with Kennedy saying before even one blueprint had been drawn he’d just go someplace else with his millions.
Also, why are they pushing for a bus stop near the Armory that no one except City Council seems to want? The project will take precious parking spaces from the Armory and there are better locations for a bus stop.
As they say, hindsight is 20-20 but this doesn’t require hindsight to see that this was perhaps not a match made in heaven.
So now, the community is left with a big, empty — albeit beautiful — building that quite possibly was overbuilt for our little city. We can only hope that someone will see the possibilities because run correctly the bar, beer garden, entertainment complex will indeed be a boon for downtown. It certainly will be a draw for tourists looking for something to do at night when few business are open.
Speaking of downtown Sonora, change is coming to Washington Street. The Sonora Inn has new owners who intend to renovate the charming hotel and install new businesses in the storefronts. Two long-time businesses — The Sportsman bar and Lighthouse Deli — have new owners as well.
But sadly the Banyan Tree has closed with the owner lamenting the difficulty of running a retail store in the age of Amazon. “I was a dressing room for Amazon,” owner Patricia Tippett said. Her upstairs renter left on the same day the business closed, leaving empty one of Sonora’s fabled old buildings. It like many others was built in the 1850s.
Let’s hope this is part of a natural ebb and flow of downtown Sonora, a situation that’s occurred time and again.
Three years ago, many, many buildings sat unused, then came new life — a toy store, a kitchen shop closed and became a home décor business. A coffee shop opened, a tap room, then a bakery. Many of these business owners are young. They, despite not a lot of attention from city leaders beyond trash cans and benches, believe in this little city. They proudly stand on its history and build for the future. They deserve nothing less than our full support.