Public meeting to focus on renovating Steamboat’s Chief Plaza Theater |

Public meeting to focus on renovating Steamboat’s Chief Plaza Theater

Mike Lawrence

Friends of the Chief, a group looking to refit Chief Plaza Theater into a performing arts theater, estimates it will need $500,000 in community funding to complete renovations.

— A group of community members seeking to purchase and renovate downtown Steamboat's Chief Plaza Theater faces a $3.5 million fundraising hurdle. They'll make their pitch to the community tonight.

Tonight's public presentation about the future of the theater is intended to assess the community's willingness to turn the space into a single-stage performing arts venue — and to help fund the multi-million dollar project.

The group, which calls itself Friends of the Chief, is leading tonight's presentation. Its plans represent a possible solution to ongoing discussions about a new performing arts venue in Steamboat Springs. Those discussions accelerated in spring 2008 when Steamboat Mountain Theater closed before the demolition of Ski Time Square.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs' Tracy Barnett is a member of Friends of the Chief. She stressed that renovation and fundraising plans are "still conceptual" — and the group has to do significant fundraising before buying the theater — but said the proposed new use for the Chief makes sense on several fronts.

"There's a bunch of people that would love to save the theater. There's a bunch of people who don't have performing arts space," she said. "Mainstreet's emphasis is because of the building being a historic building and its historic use. The benefit it would have for downtown is why we are involved."

Michael Barry has owned the Chief Plaza Theater since 1970. He placed it on the market late last year. Developer Jim Cook said the asking price is $2.87 million.

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Cook said Friends of the Chief's total project cost, including building acquisition, renovations, operating costs and more, is about $8.8 million. He provided spreadsheets showing annual revenue potential from a renovated Chief Plaza Theater — based on itemized cash flow projections — of about $200,000. Those revenues could allow financing of about $4 million in a 40-year bond, according to Cook. He said Friends of the Chief would have to raise about $3.5 million.

"But I think what we'll need from the community as a whole is going to be $500,000," Cook said Tuesday. "I think there's a way we can generate the $3 million."

Funding ideas

That generation includes a mix of historic preservation grants, tax-exempt financing for nonprofit groups, local fundraising efforts and other financing ideas.

Towny Anderson, also of Mainstreet, said if the Chief can be made eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and qualify for certified rehabilitation, a federal tax credit would give investors 20 cents on every dollar invested.

Anderson said that could be combined with federal energy efficiency tax credits and a 20 percent state tax credit for historic rehabilitation.

A longtime advocate for historic preservation, Anderson added that part of the theater renovation project would be "restoring the Chief to … its heyday, which was 1936 to 1962."

Cook said tonight's meeting is "going to give people an idea of what kind of funding we're going to have to go out and do as a community."

Friends of the Chief includes Cook; Anderson; Barnett; Jon Sanders, of Ski Town Commercial Real Estate; Valerie Stafford, of the Steam­boat Dance Theatre; and Bill Rangitsch, of Steamboat Architectural Group. Barnett said other members of the local performing arts community also are involved.

Sanders is Barry's local representative. No sale of the Chief Plaza Theater has been finalized.

In March, Rangitsch displayed renovation plans that include about 370 removable seats on the theater's main level, a 40-foot-deep stage, a floor that could be flattened or sloped according to the event, an upper mezzanine with about 100 more seats, two bar areas, a ticketing office, green room space and an upper-level deck overlooking Lincoln Avenue.

Rangitsch said removing the seats on the main level could allow for a capacity of about 750 people.

Cook said Rangitsch will present his designs and new research about stage sizes at tonight's meeting.

"I think Bill's presentation will be very good because it really shows the difference in stage areas between the various venues we have in town," Cook said. "He's done an interesting analysis of that, and I think it will surprise a lot of people."

The Chief Plaza building includes the four-plex movie theater and two retail stores — Summit Shades and Blossom, which sells women's clothing and gift items. The two stores total 1,480 square feet, and the movie theater is 5,520 square feet.

Barnett said gauging public reaction is a key component of tonight's event.

"This is not anywhere cast in stone, at all. We don't even know totally if it's fiscally feasible to do this," Barnett said. "But if there isn't buy-in from the community, there's no point in moving forward."