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.

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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.

Praise, doubts mix at meeting about Steamboat's Chief theater

Proposal to renovate Chief elicits excitement, financial questions

— Public reaction Wednesday night to a proposed renovation of the Chief Plaza Theater was a mixture of excitement, hope and concern about the project’s costs and fundraising needs during an economic recession.

“I think it’s an intriguing possibility,” Karolynn Lestrud said about plans to turn the downtown theater into a single-stage performing arts venue. “It’s a very difficult time economically for the community.”

A group of community members calling itself Friends of the Chief presented its plan and financial projections to a large audience that nearly filled the seats at Centennial Hall. Developer and group member Jim Cook said Friends of the Chief has a funding gap of about $3.5 million, including $500,000 that the group hopes to raise from the community.

That’s a big financial hurdle, but Wednesday’s meeting showed that the idea of a new downtown performing arts venue is drawing interest from the local arts community.

Lestrud is a member of the board of directors for Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. Also in attendance Wednesday was Jack Dysart, chairman of the board of directors for Emerald City Opera.

Dysart said he would take the renovation plans to that board for further input.

“We’re very interested in this,” he said about the project, calling it another example of growing interest in the arts. “In the last four years … it seems like the arts community has blossomed in Steamboat.”

Lock McShane, who moved to Steamboat in 1978 and has been involved in local theater for years, looked at conceptual renderings of the proposed Chief renovation.

“I like the whole idea, but we have to figure out if it can actually fly,” McShane said, citing the relatively narrow shape of the building.

But McShane called the renovation a good idea.

“We need another space besides the (Steamboat Springs) High School auditorium where we can do something like this,” he said.

Plans for the Chief renovation are conceptual, and no sale of the building has been finalized. Cook said the project’s total cost, including building acquisition, renovations, operating costs and more, is about $8.8 million.

Friends of the Chief member Towny Anderson reiterated plans Wednesday for a mix of financing avenues including historic preservation grants, tax-exempt financing for nonprofit groups and local fundraising efforts.

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

In March, Bill Rangitsch of Steamboat Architectural Group 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.

Steamboat resident Bill Moser said he’d be willing to support the project, citing its potential to add vitality downtown.

“If you pull this off, it would be an incredible help to the sense of community,” Moser said.

Anderson said the next steps for Friends of the Chief include establishing an ownership structure, securing financing and raising funds.

“Our go, no-go is the fall,” Anderson said. “We hope to acquire the building by November or the end of the year.”

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