Community brainstorms ideas for new performing arts center in Steamboat |

Community brainstorms ideas for new performing arts center in Steamboat

Steamboat Springs actor Christian Weeden plays the role of Mr. Yan in a scene with Kelly Engler who was playing Ebec in a dress rehearsal for the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp's production of "Out of Joint."
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Creates heard from community members Friday as it gets ready to sponsor feasibility and needs studies on a potential performing arts center in Steamboat Springs.

Members of the audience spoke up with suggestions for the center, which included building a performing arts venue at Perry- Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Strawberry Park. Others talked about the city losing conference space and suggested the proposed center be multi-use while another audience member lobbied for just a theater.

Steamboat Creates Development Coordinator Dagny McKinley first laid out the need for such a venue and explained how current performers are vying for the same spaces.

While the Steamboat Springs High School theater has 535 seats, the high school’s theater director said there’s no room to build sets, and the school can’t accommodate all the community groups that want to use it.

As for the Chief Theater, Executive Director Scott Parker said it’s not possible to expand into the alley, and seating is limited.

McKinley also said building onto the Strings Music Pavilion is also not possible.

“They’re built to be a music venue,” McKinley said. “That’s like asking football players to play on a basketball court.”

Strings’ CEO Elissa Greene confirmed the problem of trying to turn Strings into a performing arts center.

“The back of the building is butted to a berm (with nowhere to expand),” Greene said. “It’s not good for theater lighting. We’d have to tear down the building and start over again.”

Audience member Judy Zetzman, who moved here in 1992 to work in the hospitality industry, urged the community to think “big.”

“We’ve lost many groups we can’t accommodate anymore,” said Zetzman about the Sheraton closing its convention and meeting spaces to become a timeshare property.

She posed the idea of putting a multi-story venue on the Knoll parking lot. 

The chairman of the Perry-Mansfield board also encouraged people to think outside the box. 

“Steamboat does the impossible,” said Rob Schwartz, who moved to Steamboat Springs five years ago. “When I saw Strings, I said, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ I immediately bought a subscription.

“I have no doubt this town could do it,” said Schwartz of a new performing arts center.

Steamboat Creates is paying for the needs assessment, which will be done by February 2020, and the feasibility study, which will be completed by June 2020, but the nonprofit would not be in charge of building a performing arts center. Steamboat Creates’ mission involves promoting the creative sector with the goal of turning Steamboat into a “world class creative community.”

Part of the meeting focused on who would eventually build the proposed performance venue. Ideas included forming a nonprofit group of Routt County community members to oversee the project.

Several audience members said the area was home to enough wealthy and smart art patrons who could jumpstart a performing arts center without seeking city or county money. One person suggested any money collected for a performing arts center could be held in a bank and given back if the project didn’t materialize.

Opera Steamboat Artistic Director Andres Calderas, who often has his performers jumping around to different venues, expressed excitement at what Steamboat could do.

“I heard amazing ideas, and my brain went boing, boing, boing,” said Calderas. “Flexibility is key to accommodate different needs.”

Calderas talked about a theater in San Antonio that used flexible space to adjust the number of seats based on who was performing. He also said a new performing arts center could integrate indoor and outdoor performances as well.

McKinley added that performance groups have complained there is no load-in space for sets, wings, fly space or expansion areas for larger performances. She said these are the kind of elements needed to bring in national performers and competitions.

For those who want to volunteer or for more information, contact Dagny McKinley at

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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