Chief Plaza Theater Prepares For A Face Lift

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our View: Chief Plan Shows Promise

 — The future of the Chief Plaza Theater is starting to take on a solid form.

On Friday, the Friends of the Chief group announced that it placed the downtown Steamboat Springs movie theater under a purchase contract with plans to make it a performing arts venue. The terms were withheld, but the purchase and renovation cost has been estimated at close to $9 million.

Many details about the financing have yet to be negotiated, but early plans indicate that the Chief Cultural Center for the Performing Arts would be a cultural venue that would seat as many as 470 people. Although we acknowledge concerns that the Chief stage wouldn’t be large enough to suit major dramatic productions, we’re excited about the variety of entertainment it could house, and we hope it’s an inclusive venue that can serve many audiences.

Also, such a venue presents a unique opportunity to draw people downtown to attend shows, as well as shop and dine. We don’t want to discount the contribution the movie theater makes in this regard, but a performing arts center with ever-changing offerings would add a different kind of vibrancy and possibly draw a larger group of patrons.

But as the Friends of the Chief makes plans, we want to make sure the group has plenty of time to answer questions central to making this venue a success. Any changes would be years away: Carmike Cinemas, which operates the movie theater, has a lease that’s valid into 2012.

That leaves plenty of time for the discussion of issues and creation of a program to make the theater self-sustaining.

It’s essential for the group to look at return on investment and make sure the venue has an aggressive booking agent who can court attractive acts that draw people in, particularly during the busy summer and winter tourism seasons. There are plenty of examples in other Colorado towns — Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House comes to mind — the group could turn to for guidance.

We’re encouraged that Friends of the Chief already has installed expertise with members such as development heavyweight Jim Cook, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett, Towny Anderson of Historic Routt County and other sharp local minds. It’s been a truly grass-roots effort, started by locals who recognize the value of investing in the community.

The group has a Friends of the Chief fund set up through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, through which those who would like to can donate, and is working on getting nonprofit status, Anderson said. It continued its momentum from last week by meeting Tuesday to discuss fundraising, volunteers and structuring committees.

Two months ago, on June 27, we hailed the efforts of the Friends of the Chief as “a refreshing example of community interests uniting for a cause that could benefit the entire city.” In the brief period since, the group has made impressive progress. We hope it continues, and we look forward to seeing downtown thrive with a successful business plan for the Chief Cultural Center for the Performing Arts that provides dynamic, year-round programming that benefits everyone.

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