Without more funding by March, there may not be an outdoor amphitheater in Steamboat
Efforts to build an outdoor amphitheater at Strawberry Park Elementary north of downtown Steamboat Springs are approaching a crossroads, where unless the Piknik Theatre can secure $200,000, the project could be dead.
Piknik Theatre Executive Director Stuart Handloff said the nonprofit theater company has struggled to find enough donors to complete the funding commitments required to build the outdoor amphitheater in collaboration with the Steamboat Springs School District.
The project involves a partnership between the school district and the theater company in which the district would allow Piknik Theatre to build the amphitheater on Strawberry Park Elementary School’s campus. The effort has been ongoing since at least October 2021 with fundraising efforts going into full swing after the school district gave its approval in January 2022.
According to Handloff, Piknik Theatre’s $1 million fundraising goal is currently about $200,000 short. He explained that financial commitments have been secured from the state, the Gates and Boettcher foundations, Yampa Valley Electric Association, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and dozens of local donors, but it’s not enough to start construction.
Unless the remaining funds are committed by March 1 or soon thereafter, Handloff said, the project will not continue this summer and nearly $300,000 in leveraged funding could be lost.
“In order to get the work done in June 2023, we have to be able to go to the contractor in March,” Handloff explained of the looming deadline. “We actually don’t have to have the money in the bank until the first of June, but we have to have a commitment before we can order the materials.”
Construction would be locked into the school district’s calendar, and work on the amphitheater would need to be complete — or nearly complete — by the start of the 2023-24 school year, so not to interfere with any school activities.
“Clearly, the big issue here is local funding,” Handloff said, while adding there are a handful of efforts in progress to try to close the gap. “If none of these pieces come together, then the project is dead. … The biggest issue, the biggest challenge that we face, is finding private donors who will stand up and say, ‘This is important for our community.’”
Handloff said the project is important because it would provide the only outdoor public performing arts and culture venue in the community, and offer a unique educational facility for local students, creating an economic driver for new jobs and taxes.
“The first thing for me that really hits home is that we’re — not just the Piknik Theatre, but I think performing arts in general in Steamboat Springs — at a turning point, and we need to go big or go home,” Handloff said. “We need to really stand up and say, ‘Steamboat is going to be about performing arts as well as all the other recreational things.’“
Handloff also said the project is valuable to the larger community because the amphitheater would be available at little or no cost to school students, local performing artists of all stripes, and community and civic groups, as well as Piknik Theatre.
As a former teacher, Handloff said he knows it can be difficult for students to get involved in activities outside the school norm, and opportunities in the performing arts realm can be far less available than other extra curricular offerings.
“I think it’s an exciting thing for Steamboat to talk about our education and see (the amphitheater) as an important educational component,” he said.
According to the Piknik Theatre, more than 15,000 audience members have enjoyed the theater company’s free performances since 2008, and hundreds of students have participated in its youth workshops.
Handloff also sees the project as an economic driver, as he argues that Steamboat’s lack of outdoor performance facilities puts the city at a competitive disadvantage compared to other resort communities.
“Every major ski resort — Telluride, Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge — all have (public) outdoor performance spaces,” Handloff said. “Steamboat does not. And so there’s this economic competition that I see that we’re falling behind, and this is an opportunity to step up.“
Anyone interested in supporting the project can contact Handloff by calling him at 970-355-9403 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eli Pace is the editor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Reach him at email@example.com or 970-871-4221.
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