Friends of the Chief ink contract to buy Steamboat movie theater |

Friends of the Chief ink contract to buy Steamboat movie theater

The Friends of the Chief has a contract to buy the Chief Plaza Theater on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs. The group wants to refurbish and return the small multiplex movie theater to a single stage intended for a variety of cultural uses.
John F. Russell

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Find out more about the League of Historic American Theaters

Friends of the Chief member Towny Anderson recommends the website of the League of Historic American Theaters,, to people interested in gaining insight into the role refurbished theaters play in downtown districts.

The league has published a manual on the rescue and rehab of theaters. However, the organization has made a shift toward guiding theater managers and their boards toward sustaining the vitality of their theaters in their communities.

— A community group working to create a downtown cultural venue took a major step in that direction this week.

A spokesman for Friends of the Chief confirmed Friday afternoon that the group has placed the Chief Plaza movie theater in downtown Steamboat Springs under a purchase contract.

“We’re very, very pleased about this,” Jim Cook said. “All of the members of our board will be kicking in for the short term to secure equity for a bridge loan” that would buy time for the community group to pursue a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan tailored to helping small communities acquire cultural centers.

Friends of the Chief member Towny Anderson said restoring the small multiplex to a cultural venue that would seat as many as 470 could establish a new gathering place for the community.

“It’s more than nostalgia,” Anderson said. “It’s like getting a piece of your Main Street back in community hands. It re-establishes what they call the village well.”

The new name of the property would be The Chief Cultural Center for the Performing Arts, Cook said.

The contracted purchase price is being withheld, but Cook previously acknowledged that longtime theater owner Michael Barry was asking for $2.87 million for the building. The Friends of the Chief would propose borrowing several million more to refurbish and return the theater to a single stage intended for a variety of cultural uses. The complete cost of acquiring and refurbishing the building has been estimated at $8.8 million.

“If everything worked out, we could take possession of the theater in 45 days,” Cook said. With the theater “next door to the Steamboat Art Museum, what I see is a cultural anchor to downtown.”

Even if the Friends of the Chief are able to use a bridge loan to close on the theater in the fall, it’s likely to be a couple of years before any work on the theater would begin, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said. She is part of the Friends group.

Carmike Cinemas’ lease on the theater is valid into 2012, she said.

“That gives us more time for planning and raising funds,” Barnett said.

The Carmike lease also provides $200,000 in income to cover costs associated with taking plans for the refurbishing to the next level, Cook said.

Bridge to a loan

Friends of the Chief has ap­proached all of the local banks to determine whether they would be interested in forming a consortium to loan funds for the bridge loan in proportion to their market share in the community, Cook said.

He’s hopeful that one or two large benefactors would help the Friends get over the hump on the down payment for the bridge loan so the board could quickly focus its efforts on securing the USDA loan.

The loan would come from a program tailored for communities of fewer than 15,000 people seeking to acquire a cultural facility, Cook said. The Friends are working with the Delta office of the USDA on the financing, which would allow as long as a 40-year term with interest rates locked in at the prime rate, he said.

Cook said the group’s pro forma suggests that it could leverage $4 million of the total project. However, at the recommendation of USDA advisers, they will take it in two steps, closing one loan to buy the property and a second for the construction phase.

Downtown magnet

Cook has been articulating his vision of transforming downtown Steamboat into an entertainment district for more than five years.

Barnett and Anderson share that vision.

Barnett recalled that in 2006, when the new Wildhorse Stadium Cinema was being planned for its location near Central Park Plaza, it raised concerns in the downtown business district.

“We were really, really afraid that we were going to lose the theater back then,” Barnett said.

It gives people a reason to go downtown and perhaps shop and dine also.

“You have to have some reason to get out of your car,” Barnett said. “People aren’t always shopping.”

Anderson said the Chief Cultural Center has the potential to fill a void in downtown Steamboat.

“Right now, there’s a gap between 5 p.m. and 9 or 10 p.m. when the Old Town Pub and Ghost Ranch (Saloon) come alive,” he said.

There is a national movement toward revitalizing downtown entertainment and cultural opportunities by reclaiming old theaters.

“We’re building a lot of momentum toward that paradigm,” Anderson said.

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