2016 Navigator Award — Business of the Year — Chief Theater
Steamboat Springs — It took the vision of community leaders and the drive of Executive Director Scott Parker to transform this year’s business of the year into a thriving downtown entertainment venue.
Just four years ago, Carmike Cinemas closed its doors and building owner Michael Barry put the Chief Theater up for sale.
Steamboat Springs resident Jim Cook was among those who saw an opportunity to make the Chief shine once again.
There were ultimately two goals — to expand the arts in Steamboat and create a more vibrant downtown.
“We wanted to fill in with some more excitement on Lincoln Avenue,” Cook said. “This just adds to the whole theme.”
When it was built in the 1920s, the Chief was a single-room venue and was the first place “talkies” were shown in Northwest Colorado.
In the 1980s, walls were put up to separate the space into four theaters.
By 2012, the Chief was in need of some tender love and care.
“That place hadn’t been cleaned in years,” Cook said. “God, was it horrible.”
Cook went on to help form the Friends of the Chief nonprofit group, and he gambled his own money to secure the rights to buy the building by putting up the non-refundable earnest money.
“We had no idea how we were going to pay for it,” Cook said.
A year after getting the building under contract, Friends of the Chief was able to raise enough money to purchase the Chief for $1.45 million on Oct. 2, 2012.
The names of the donors are listed in the Chief’s lobby.
“It was a real grassroots efforts,” said Cook, who later stepped down from the Friends of the Chief board. “The people who are running it now are doing a stellar job.”
A cultural hub
In October, the hottest tickets in town were for the sold-out performances of “Cannibal: The Musical” at the Chief.
These days, if you want to see a show at the Chief, you better get tickets early.
“The Chief, just by its presence, is the cultural and entertainment hub of downtown Steamboat,” said Parker, who became the executive director in August of 2013.
And on nights when the Chief is packed, neighboring businesses reap the benefits.
“When we have a busy night, restaurants have to add staff,” Parker said.
The vision of the Chief is taking shape, and today, the historic theater is home to a variety of eclectic entertainment and fundraising events.
“There’s no other thing like it,” Friends of the Chief board member Alice Klauzer said. “It’s a multi-cultural center.”
This year, a milestone was reached when a view-obstructing post was removed from the main theater and turned into a bar top.
There is still more work to be done.
To truly transform the theater, Friends of the Chief wants to return it to a one-theater venue and add a balcony. It is a big job and would take a year and a half of construction and a price of between $3 million and $5 million.
This project would expand the theater to between 300 and 400 seats, allowing the Chief to attract bigger-named acts.
“We’re really, really working hard, trying to get it to where we want it to be,” Klauzer said.
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