If final approvals come through, new outdoor amphitheater could break ground in June | SteamboatToday.com

If final approvals come through, new outdoor amphitheater could break ground in June

If final approvals come together as expected, construction could start in mid-June

This rendering depicts a new outdoor amphitheater on the Strawberry Park Elementary campus in Steamboat Springs.
Piknik Theatre /Courtesy image

The executive director of the Piknik Theatre has been working to bring an outdoor amphitheater to Steamboat Springs and give the nonprofit theater group a permanent home since 2017.

Now, he’s planning to break ground next month.

“It certainly has been a lot of agony and ecstasy associated with this project,” said Stuart Handloff, the executive director and board chair for the Piknik Theatre. “We’re at the point where we’re going ahead with all the permits and the process because we have sufficient funds to make sure we can get it built and meet the stipulations of the lease with the school district.”

The project involves a partnership between the Steamboat Springs School District and the theater company in which the district would allow Piknik Theatre to build the amphitheater on Strawberry Park Elementary School’s campus. The amphitheater would be available to Piknik Theatre, as well as the schools and other community groups.

According to Handloff’s latest update, nearly all of the funding for phase one of the project is in place, and the only remaining pieces involve securing final approvals from the Steamboat Springs School District and the Routt County Planning Commission.

“We can now say with almost absolute certainty that the project will go ahead as planned for phase one,” Handloff wrote in the update as he explained that plans are being submitted to the planning department and a public hearing is set for June 15.

Citing the “strong collaboration with the school staff and district administration” and what’s been laid out in the site plan, Handloff said he does not expect securing the Planning Commission’s approval to be a problem.

Additionally, the board of education is scheduled to meet today to look over the amphitheater’s site plan and architectural drawings with a final review of construction drawings on June 5. Handloff said that school board members could make some adjustments to the plan, but given the school district’s support for the project in the past, he hopes to have all approvals in place in time for a groundbreaking on June 19.

According to Handloff, construction should take about 10 to 12 weeks, depending on the weather, and there could be a grand opening in September. The goal is for all heavy construction work to be finished before the start of the 2023-24 school year.

According to Handloff, the outdoor amphitheater is vital for the community’s arts scene and for the future of the Piknik Theatre.

As Handloff explained, the theater group has operated out of the Yampa River Botanic Park for years, and while he is grateful for that partnership, a new amphitheater would give Piknik Theatre a dedicated facility with parking, toilets and other amenities, as well as the guarantee of a long-term lease.

He said the new outdoor amphitheater won’t be a good location for large rock concerts or anything like that, but it will be perfect for the theater’s needs.

“It will be acoustic sound — not amplified — but still the sound quality is going to be extraordinary out there,” Handloff said. “We’ve had an acoustical engineer looking at it for just that purpose. So this is really an opportunity to say that we have a performing arts group that can continue beyond a year or two or whatever, that it has a real future.”

Donations to support the project are still being accepted, and Handloff said the project is still about $10,000 short of its budget goal. After phase one, he also hopes to secure more funding to improve the audience seating area and add the last two acoustical panels, along with raising contingency funds to cover any potential shortfalls.

“We can make the property work with a grassy area just like we did at the botanic park and we have done for years there, but we’d really like to have something a little more permanent that’s lower maintenance, less water-consumptive,” he said of putting in concrete seating. “That’s going to depend on continued fundraising over the next month or two. We can always do the seating and the final pair of acoustical panels later on — whether that’s the end of the summer or next year — and still have a usable facility in 2024.”

Based on the previous estimates, Handloff said the project needs at least $625,000 to start construction. According to Handloff, private donors have already committed $400,000, and another $125,000 is coming from the state. Other foundations have stepped up and committed money as well, bringing the total up to $615,000, and Handloff said he’s fairly confident they’ll be able to come up with the remaining $10,000 in the next couple of weeks.

Handloff also expects for the construction of a bronze “wall of fame” to acknowledge the donors who gave $1,000 or more to the project.

For Handloff, it’s been a long journey to get to this point and there have been moments where he has considered giving up.

“Without those private donors who came up with $5 to $100,000, who said, ‘We believe this project is worth it and we want you to continue to work on it,’ I would have quit months ago,” he said. “For me, it’s like I feel empowered by this group to keep it going, and now we’re at the point where, ‘OK it’s ready to go. What’s it going to be like? Are we going to be able to really achieve the vision that I had imagined in 2017 when I first realized that we need to get something that is more sustainable for the theater company?’ It’s very gratifying to see the community really step up.”

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