HANFORD – Hanford headlines were dominated this year by a couple of key stories: The re-opening of the historic Fox Theatre and the possibility of a big medical marijuana business coming to town.

Hanford’s entertainment options were diminished when part of the theater’s ceiling, including large chunks of concrete, collapsed overnight onto the auditorium seats in March 2014.

The collapse forced a complete structural renovation of the entire ceiling that ended up taking more than two years to complete.

The theater finally reopened for its first public show – a performance by Jackson Browne – on April 30, 2016.

For months after that, there were no problems with the building.

But in December, a piece of plaster fell from the ceiling onto the stage.

Fox Theatre owner Dan Humason cancelled events for the remainder of the year.

He said workers needed to take all the plaster off the area over the stage to examine the underlying material to make sure it’s sound.

The plaster piece fell just before Brothers Osborne were set to perform.

The group instead held an impromptu concert outside, playing on top of their tour bus parked on Irwin Street. Ticket holders and others gathered to listen in Civic Park.

The theater is scheduled to re-open Jan. 27, 2017, for a performance by musician Robert Earl Keen.

Also in 2016, the Hanford City Council for the first time moved forward with the idea of potentially allowing a large medical marijuana processor to locate in the Kings Industrial Park south of town.

The applicant, Purple Heart Patient Center, a large medical marijuana dispensing business in Oakland, is proposing to grow and process medical marijuana inside the former Pirelli tire plant at the industrial park.

The business is also proposing to grow medical marijuana in a greenhouse on adjacent property outside the building.

The proposal caught council members' attention with the promise of 1,115 full-time jobs at full capacity.

The applicant said the jobs would start at $15 an hour and go up to $80,000 to $100,000 for “senior management” positions.

The applicant forecasts $14 million in annual tax revenue for Hanford from the facility.

When the business was first proposed for Hanford in September, council members were skeptical.

City ordinances have long prohibited the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana in Hanford.

To allow the facility, the council would have to change the ordinance.

To better evaluate the idea, the council directed Police Chief Parker Sever and Community Development Director Darlene Mata to find comparable facilities out-of-state and go on a fact-finding mission.

Sever and Mata came back to the council in November to report on their findings.

They toured three facilities in Canada and one in San Jose. Their conclusion? The facilities were clean, well-run and had good security protocols.

Sever, while expressing personal concerns about the potential for any kind of marijuana use to lead to drug abuse, said that if similar facilities “were allowed in Hanford, I think it could be [effectively] regulated.”

Based on that testimony, three councilmen — Justin Mendes, Francisco Ramirez and David Ayers — instructed to Mata to begin the process of changing the ordinance.

As a compromise measure, they also directed staff not to allow any medical marijuana dispensaries in Hanford.

Dispensaries are retail outlets where consumers can purchase medical marijuana products.

If the Purple Heart proposal becomes a reality, the medical pot would be shipped out of Hanford to other areas of the state.

“Quite frankly, it’s a potential revenue stream,” said Mendes in an interview, speaking about the Purple Heart proposal. “Saying ‘no’ gives you zero revenue but you have all the social costs of recreational marijuana [anyway].”

Mendes was referring to the passage of Proposition 64 on Nov. 8. The proposition legalized recreational pot in California.

Mata said the ordinance-crafting process will go on at least until June 15, 2017, depending on whether or not the city does a full-blown environmental impact report.

The process is likely to resemble the same procedures Coalinga has already gone through.

The Coalinga City Council voted in June to immediately allow for medical marijuana cultivation and to approve the sale of a former prison to a company called Ocean Grown. The business would operate in a similar fashion to what Purple Heart is proposing.

In other Hanford city news, the Hanford City Council:

  • Decided in April to replace the padded rubber matting beneath the disabled-accessible playground equipment at Freedom Park. The council had been set to approve replacing the rubber matting with pieces of bark — which would have been cheaper than the rubber matting. However, council members changed their minds after a public outcry from residents who said the park would impair access for people with wheelchairs, walkers and braces.
  • Decided in May to kill a proposal to locate a cellphone tower in Hidden Valley Park. Police Chief Parker Sever testified that the tower would improve police communications and help police better respond to calls for service in north Hanford, where he cellphone service can be spotty. But residents who live near the tower’s proposed location protested. So did people who wanted to keep Hidden Valley Park the way that it is.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432.