School board pushes approval for outdoor amphitheater back

The construction of PikNik Amphitheater continues to be pushed off as opposition grows from the Strawberry Park Group over the proposed location of the theater being in Strawberry Park.
Stuart Handloff/Courtesy photo

The executive director of Piknik Theatre is hoping for a ground-breaking ceremony for the nonprofit theater group’s proposed outdoor ampitheater at Strawberry Park by the end of June, but opposition from residents of Strawberry Park might push back the timeline.

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education was scheduled to vote on the approval of the outdoor amphitheater Monday, but postponed making a decision after Strawberry Park residents expressed their concerns.

In delaying the vote, school board members said they want to ensure there is adequate time for people to wrap their heads around the final architectural plans before the next opportunity to make a public comment at the June 19 school board meeting.

Ben Beall, president of the Strawberry Park Group, spoke during public comments Monday, saying the group had only been given final architectural plans on June 2 and that was not enough time to get a grasp on the plans before Monday’s school board meeting. 

“How can the public review a plan that comes out Friday afternoon for a Monday meeting?” Beall said. “It’s just not appropriate. I would like to go through the lease, which you have already signed.” 

Beall said that the project still needs approval from the school board and Routt County Planning, which is scheduled for June 15. 

Beall noted in a letter to the board of education that as part of the final lease agreement approval by the board, the Strawberry Park Group was to have a seat at the table to review architectural plans. The primary issue they are concerned with is the location.

In the meeting, Beall noted that the location of the amphitheater is not in Steamboat city limits, and said the project is not consistent with the character and Ag Forestry zoning of Strawberry Park because it would be adjacent to the 700-acre community’s highly valued Elkstone Farm.

However, Stuart Handloff, board chair and executive director of Piknik Theatre, disagreed.

“We’re not on the ag property; we’re on the school district property,” Handloff said. “There’s no difference between an outdoor amphitheater and education spaces outdoors. On top of that, there are other activities that are outdoors at the school.”

In the meeting and in letters to the board of education and Routt County Planning Commission, Beall voiced that with all the proposed types of events at the amphitheater, it should be viewed as a commercial development. 

Piknik Theatre and the school district will have the ability to rent out the theater. Piknik Theatre would have priority scheduling in June, July and August, while the school district would have priority during the school year. 

Handloff said there would be user fees attached to groups other than the school district and Piknik Theatre, and those fees would go into a maintenance fund. The revenue would not go to any general fund or any other fund for the school district or Piknik Theatre. 

Piknik Theatre hopes to have the new venue up before the start of the 2023-24 school year, and Handloff said construction will not take long. 

“If anyone goes out there and walks and looks at the site, they’re gonna go, this is it? This is what we’ve waited five years for? It’s a little bandbox,” Handloff said. “It’s a small little stage that happens to be built to withstand the elements and years and years of use, but it’s not anything particularly massive or exotic.”

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