Long-discussed amphitheater nears reality in Strawberry Park

Piknik Theatre and the Steamboat Springs School District are moving forward with a plan to build Steamboat's first amphitheater near Strawberry Park Elementary School.
Piknik Theatre/Courtesy

Last year Stuart Handloff, executive director of Piknik Theatre, was spending a lot of time in Strawberry Park because of a production being put on at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Looking north, near Strawberry Park Elementary School, Handloff said he found what he and others in the local preforming arts scene have been scouring town to find: a spot for Steamboat’s first amphitheater.

“I spent hours out there, listening, sitting and reviewing the kinds of things that the site offered,” said Handloff, who first pushed the idea in 2017 and is behind the latest attempt to make the project happen. “This is the spot.”

Despite strong support from other local arts-centered groups, efforts to build the amphitheater in the past have always derailed before finding a location — most recently last summer when Steamboat Springs City Council was lukewarm on the idea. On Monday, Jan. 24, members of the Steamboat Springs Board of Education indicated that search for where to put the outdoor theater has likely drawn to a successful close.

The board did not vote, but each member said they supported the project and felt it would be a good community addition, as well as something the school district would find valuable. There is no official agreement at this point, but Handloff said he envisioned the district continuing to own the land and the amphitheater, with Piknik having a long-term lease on the space.

Piknik would primarily use the space in the summer, minimizing conflicts with school, but Handloff said he felt it could be used from May to October. As a former drama teacher at the high school, he said he hoped it would help improve performance arts programs for students.

“I think it’s a great way to visibly support the arts and arts education,” said board member Lara Craig.

He estimates construction would cost about $500,000, including a contingency, and the district wouldn’t financially support construction or ongoing maintenance of the facility. It wouldn’t need lights or sound amplification and would utilize existing parking and restrooms at the elementary school.

“Steamboat is an outdoor community,” Handloff said. “To get out and perform outdoors, I think, fits in perfectly with who we are as a community.”

Handloff said he has a plan to solicit the donations needed to pay for the project but had waited to approach donors until he had the support of the district.

In October, Handloff, district staff and nearby property owners toured the site, with each feeling it would be a good spot for the amphitheater. Handloff has numerous letters of support for the project from Steamboat Creates, Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, Opera Steamboat and others around town.

“Every kid in this valley has ample opportunity for recreational assets and recreational exploration, whether it’s skiing or ice hockey or just getting outdoors,” Handloff said. “There is not so much for kids who are involved in the arts, and I think it’s important to realize a balanced community needs both.”

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