Piknik Theatre looks for support from Routt County to fund outdoor amphitheater project

This rendering depicts a new outdoor amphitheater on the Strawberry Park Elementary campus in Steamboat Springs. The new performance venue would be built through a partnership between the Steamboat Springs School District and Piknik Theatre, but it might not ever get off the ground if additional funding cannot be found soon.
Piknik Theatre /Courtesy image

The quest to construct an outdoor amphitheater in Steamboat Springs continues, and so does the struggle to fund it.

Working with a loose fundraising deadline of Wednesday, March 1, Piknik Theatre Executive Director Stuart Handloff approached Routt County commissioners Monday, Feb. 27, asking for a $25,000 donation.

Commissioners said they do not want to shut the door on the donation entirely, but need more time before they make a decision to commit the funds.

The project involves a partnership between the school district and the nonprofit theater company in which the school district would allow Piknik Theatre to build the amphitheater on Strawberry Park Elementary School’s campus.

Handloff told the Steamboat Pilot & Today in February that Piknik Theatre’s $1 million fundraising goal was about $200,000 short, and without additional funding, the outdoor amphitheater might not happen.

On Monday, Handloff indicated that Steamboat Springs officials showed some interest in investing $25,000 toward the amphitheater project and said that he hoped county commissioners would consider matching it. 

Citing historical examples of the value such theaters bring to communities and noting the culture and economic developments it could contribute, Handloff was looking to garner the support of the commissioners for not only the money, but a letter of support for a Rural Economic Development Initiative grant. 

Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he had reservations about the funding request given that the county operates under TABOR. He explained that commissioners typically do not delve into recreation or arts and culture when it comes to spending taxpayer money. 

“Having said that, this seems like an awesome project,” Corrigan said. “Is us not signing off on the $25,000 the kiss of death for this project?”

“If I found the money elsewhere, I wouldn’t be here,” Handloff said. 

Routt County Commissioner Sonja Macys expressed some concerns about relying heavily on a Rural Economic Development Initiative grant, as she noted that is a competitive grant process and simply applying does not guarantee anything.

Commissioners Macys and Tim Redmond agreed with Corrigan in that they also think the project is a good idea but share similar concerns about TABOR. 

Piknik Theatre, in partnership with the Steamboat School Springs District, hopes to add to Steamboat Springs’ arts and entertainment scene by building an outdoor amphitheater near Strawberry Park Elementary School in Steamboat Springs.
Piknik Theatre/Courtesy photo

According to Handloff, the outdoor amphitheater would host at least 100 days of performances annually and help balance out recreational tourism in Routt.

“This project would raise the tide of arts and culture in the community,” Handloff said. “This will attract folks in this realm to the community to bring in their business and their employees. Arts attract arts.”

Piknik Theatre has taken on the Steamboat Springs School District as a partner, and Handloff said that both state Rep. Meghan Lukens and state Sen. Dylan Roberts support the plan. Handloff also said that one donor has committed $100,000 to the project.

All three Routt County commissioners said they first needed a definite commitment from Steamboat Springs for the $25,000 before matching it. They also said it would be best if they approached the request during a budget cycle. 

“I do not want to shut the door on the project, but I do not think we have what we need today to make a decision,” Macys said. 

County officials plan to reconvene with city officials in the upcoming weeks to discuss the Piknik Theatre’s request.

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