Friends of the Chief closes on historic theater in downtown Steamboat |

Friends of the Chief closes on historic theater in downtown Steamboat

Steamboat Today

— If you have the old marquee for the Chief Plaza Theater in a barn somewhere, Friends of the Chief would like it back.

The nonprofit group closed on its $1.45 million purchase of the historic downtown theater Tuesday morning, and members want to know where the old, lighted marquee that used to grace the building now resides. It's needed. The theater is making a comeback.

At a reception Tuesday afternoon in the lobby of the Chief, Friends of the Chief board President Jim Cook said the plan is to do minor renovations to the theater and have it hosting events by about Thanksgiving.

Cook said the wall between the two larger movie theaters will be torn down and a new stage will be built in what will be the main venue area.

"Now that the ownership exists, we can use the space," Friends of the Chief board member Valerie Stafford said earlier, noting the proceeds from events will go to the larger renovation costs.

In the lobby of the theater Tuesday, plans for a new building were displayed. The current structure would be razed except for the facade, which would be returned to a circa 1940s look, and a single-stage venue would be built in its place, Stafford said. A basement would be added along with a balcony level.

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The proposed building would be able to host musical acts, dance, theater and conference events or large dinners, using a floor that would rise from sloped toward to level with the stage, according to the plans.

But the construction phase might be three years out, and in the interim, the group is seeking a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and plans to continue to raise funds.

Carmike Cinemas left behind the seats, sound systems and screens when it closed the theater in early September. Friend of the Chief hopes to take advantage of the items when the two larger theaters are combined.

Standing in front of the group that gathered Tuesday to celebrate the coup, Cook raised a glass of Champagne and toasted all those who had worked for three years to make the purchase happen.

"There were days that if you asked me the odds, I'd say it would have been the other way. But we have the deed," Cook said.

Friends of the Chief news release

The Friends of the Chief is scheduled to close at 10 a.m. today on the purchase of the historic Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave., in downtown Steamboat Springs. The purchase price was $1.45 million.

"We're absolutely thrilled to have completed the purchase of the Chief Theater," said Friends' president Jim Cook. "It's a significant milestone, one we've been striving to reach for more than two years. But in many ways, it's only the beginning. We have a solid vision for the building, but we will need the community's support to achieve that goal."

The building currently houses two retail businesses, Blossom and Summit Shades. Neither will be asked to move in the short-run, Cook said. Carmike Chief Plaza Four closed its doors in September, when Carmike Cinemas' lease to operate a commercial theater at the location expired.

Friends' envisions restoring the historic building to an earlier architectural style, most likely adopting its 1940s façade, and transforming the theater into a cultural center for the community. Local arts groups that currently struggle for performance space and forums to provide educational resources could utilize the facility. It would also serve as a regional venue that could attract national groups.

Architect Bill Rangitsch of Steamboat Architectural Associates contributed his services to draw preliminary, conceptual plans. They include one main auditorium with 350 seats and an additional 115 seats on the balcony level. The seats and slanted flooring would be removable, allowing 650 people to attend a standing-room-only event.

As envisioned, the building would include two main bars, one on street level and one in the balcony. Additional portable bars could be located throughout the facility, depending on a particular event's needs. A new foundation would be dug under the building, and a green room, rehearsal space and storage areas would be located in the resulting basement.

The estimated cost of the rehabilitation project is $4 million, plus $650,000 in related expenses like legal fees, permits and testing. Financing would come through grants, fund-raising events and donations. Cook estimates work could begin as early as next year, with a completion date in 2015.

Built in 1926, the Chief was originally owned by "Chief" Harry Gordon, a prominent Steamboat resident and member of the Miami Indian tribe. Although locals affectionately called him "The Chief," Harry Gordon was not a tribal leader.

The building has undergone major remodeling at least four times in its 86-year history. Previous owner Michael Barry purchased the building in 1970. During his tenure, the premises were remodeled twice, most recently in the 1980s, when it was reconfigured to its present floor plan. Barry worked with Friends to facilitate the sale, and Friends plans to name the main auditorium within the theater in Barry's honor.

In the near future, the building will undergo modest remodeling so that it can be used to host fundraising events.

Friends of the Chief fact sheet

Friends of the Chief Mission and Vision

Friends of The Chief is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation committed to the rehabilitation and revitalization of the historic Chief Theater in downtown Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Friends' mission is to develop the historic Chief Theatre as a cultural center that meets the needs of a vibrant and active arts community through state-of-the-art technology, diverse programming and educational opportunities.


Purchase price: $1.45 million

Estimated construction costs: $4 million

Estimated related expenses (consultants, legal, permits, testing, fees): $650,000

First year operating expenses: $250,000

Total Cost: $6,350,000

Conceptual Plan

Main theater: approx. 350 seats

Balcony seating: approx. 115 seats

Standing room (with seats removed in main theater): 650 people

Two bars, one fronting Lincoln Avenue, the other on the balcony-level

Basement-level green room, rehearsal space and storage areas

Preliminary designs drawn by Bill Rangitsch, Steamboat Architectural Associates

Friends Board of Directors

Tracy Barnett, member

James A. Cook, president

Kevin E. Gilman, secretary

Kimberly W. Haggerty, member

Erica Swissler Hewitt, ad hoc

Alice Klauzer, member

Michael Lang, member

Mary McClurg, member

Melanie McDaniel, treasurer

Deborah Olsen, member

Valerie Stafford, member

Chief Theatre History

• Built in 1926, the building has been remodeled four times, reflecting four distinct periods of architecture.

• The Chief was the first theater in Northwest Colorado to show "talkies."

• The bidet in the ladies' room was the first in a public space in Northwest Colorado.

• The building was named for its original owner, "Chief" Harry Gordon, a prominent Steamboat Springs resident and member of the Miami Indian Tribe. Despite his nickname, Gordon was not a tribal leader.

• As originally designed, the building featured an Indian motif.

• Drastically remodeled in the 1980s, the space was divided into a four-plex movie theater with 2 retail spaces.

• The Chief was first placed under contract by the Friends of the Chief Foundation in Fall 2011.

• Previous owner Michael Barry purchased the building in 1970.

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