Steamboat school board delays signing lease for amphitheater in Strawberry Park

Neighbors have opposed the project, but the board is expected to approve an altered lease in April

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

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education delayed signing a lease with Piknik Theatre on Monday, March 28, but hopes to bring a revised lease back before the board next month.

In January, Stuart Handloff, executive director of the theater, pitched the board on the idea of building Steamboat’s first amphitheater at the district’s Strawberry Park campus.

Piknik would pay to build the structure at an estimated cost of $500,000, and the district would lease the land for an extended period. Piknik would use the space primarily in the summer, and the district would have to approve any events there during the school year.

The board was supportive of the idea when it was initially proposed and started discussing a lease agreement with Piknik, a step Handloff said needs to happen before they can start fundraising to build the structure.

But the Strawberry Park Group, a collection of neighbors in the area, has concerns about the project and the effect it might have.

Ben Beall Sr., president of the Strawberry Park Group, sent the board a letter on March 7 outlining the group’s objections to the project, largely because the group believes that an amphitheater belongs in a more urban environment, not in Strawberry Park.

“If you look at what’s being proposed — opera, orchestra, theater, dance, lectures — that’s not just Piknik Theatre with kids,” Beall told the board. “That’s a whole commercial venture, which should be placed in an urban area. “

Other members of the group worried about lights and sound coming from the amphitheater. They were also concerned about the ambiguity of the size of the theater and how many people it would bring into the area.

However, Handloff tried to ease their concerns.

“There is no amplification; there is no electricity out there,” he said. “We’ll have a solar panel for security lighting, which won’t compare, of course, to what is in the parking lot. That’s all.”

As proposed, the lease would last 10 years with the option to renew for another 10, and Piknik would pay $1 a year. While the district may choose to add electricity out there eventually, Handloff said he isn’t interested in it now.

Handloff added that the amphitheater would not be right for all types of events, and he agreed that large concerts like those at Steamboat Ski Resort wouldn’t be appropriate in Strawberry Park.

The school board would have a say in the project’s design before construction could start, and Handloff would need the school district’s permission for any event during the school year.

In the summer, Piknik Threatre would get priority, but any events at the amphitheater would still need to comply with the district’s facility-use policy, which puts limits on the types of events that could be held there.

Handloff expressed confidence they will come up with a solution that is attractive to the neighborhood and serves students as well as the schools’ athletic fields do. He said an amphitheater would finally give students who choose theater the space they need but don’t currently have.

Board members asked Handloff and their lawyer questions about the lease agreement while identifying some technical changes that needed to happen before the board is ready to sign. Superintendent Brad Meeks said he hopes to have an agreement for the board to consider on April 11.

“I feel like those kids (who are interested in performing arts) have gotten short shrift from the district, and it’s about time that they get a facility,” Handloff said.

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