Steamboat Springs When Mick Barnhart visited the vacant land near the intersection of Mount Werner and Pine Grove roads more than a year ago, he strode directly to center stage and tried to imagine a string quartet. Then he set up a sophisticated decibel meter and listened closely for coal trains, jake brakes on semitrailers and diesel pickups pulling away from the nearby stoplight. What he heard -- or what he didn't hear -- was enough to tell him that a performing arts tent could work on the site.
Barnhart, an acoustic engineer, didn't really stand at center stage, just at the spot where a stage will be erected next year. Later this summer, construction crews will begin preparing the site that will house Strings in the Mountains music festival beginning in 2004.
Barnhart's company, Adams and Associates, has been working with Strings for a decade. Ambient noise was just one of many considerations taken into account before the music festival closed on the purchase of 6 acres from Trendwest Resorts Inc., this year, Strings President and CEO Kay Clagett said this week. Acquiring a permanent home that allows the festival to invest in its future was the goal.
"There are opportunities for us at the new site, but we've also made a commitment to the community," Clagett said. "From here on out, whatever we do to the site, it's all building toward what these 7 acres will look like someday."
Strings purchased 6 acres from Trendwest for $1.6 million, and the condominium developer donated an additional 1.2 acres of adjacent open space to the festival site.
Strings concerts have been performed since 1992 in a 500-seat tent in Torian Plum Plaza. The tent was given to Strings by the city of Steamboat Springs, and the festival site was provided by the Torian Homeowners Association. That arrangement afforded Strings significant exposure to visitors at the base of the ski area and allowed it to grow to 25,000 patrons each summer, Clagett said.
However, increasing numbers of people in the commercial areas at the resort's base were making it challenging for the festival to provide the atmosphere it needed for its eclectic mix of chamber and world music.
"Torian Plum Plaza is the main connection between Gondola Plaza and Ski Time Square," Clagett observed. "Families on vacation stroll by and they're laughing and having a good time. That's natural. But they are 20 feet off the corner of our tent when we're recording (a concert) for National Public Radio. We just need to control our environment."
Strings Board President Rocco Laterzo said the permanent site will help ensure the festival's future.
"This is huge, not only financially, but it's a huge mental step," Laterzo said.
The Strings Board considered pursuing a permanent structure on the new site, Laterzo said, but concluded the timing is not right. Instead, it opted to relocate the tent in a way that will preserve its ability to pursue a permanent building in the future.
"We're a financially conservative board," Laterzo said. "We run our operations to make certain we have adequate funding for the present and for future needs. We really thought about doing a permanent facility, but we decided here's what we can do -- let's do this and do it right. When we feel it's the right time, from our knowledge of what people want," the board will consider an effort to build a permanent structure.
Laterzo, who has been on the Strings board for four years and has been chairman for nine months, is a retired accountant who was partner in an international accounting firm. Other board members are CEOs, bankers and venture capitalists.
Clagett pointed out the tent will be located so that it can coexist with construction of a new concert hall on the ideal portion of the 7 acres. An architectural firm specializing in concert halls was hired to study the site and develop a conceptual plan.
In the past, the festival had to take down its tent in Torian Plum Plaza each fall in order to facilitate ski-in/ski-out access in the winter. Each spring, the tent is raised on its aluminum ribs once again. That is an expensive process. With a permanent home, Clagett said, the tent will remain in place all year, and the festival will look for community partners interested in hosting events the rest of the year.
This summer's construction will see completion of new roads, sidewalks, lighting and landscaping, Laterzo said. Concrete must be poured to replicate the tiered seating at the current Strings venue. When the tent is erected for the 2004 concert season, all of the necessary improvements will be complete. At Barnhart's recommendation, earthen berms will be built around the site to lessen the impact of traffic noise. Prefabricated offices for the Strings staff and a prefabricated rest-room facility will be placed on the site. The staff will move there this fall, Clagett said.
Extensive landscaping will be used to make the new site inviting, Laterzo said. When concertgoers arrive next June, they'll be greeted by a water feature and a parklike entrance.
"We want to create the feeling Strings has always had," Clagett said. "Once you arrive on site, you know it's going to be special."
Clagett said the way in which Strings structured the purchase of its new site has created some confusion about the festival's future plans. Some people have the mistaken impression that Strings will develop resort condominiums next to its new site.
Instead, Trendwest has future plans to build additional condos on the balance of its land adjacent to the Strings site. The company conditioned its sale contract on the ability of both entities to gain city approval for their respective development plans.
Strings has no links to Trendwest, no one from Trendwest is on its board and Strings won't have a role in future development of the condos, Clagett said.
The more than $2 million necessary to acquire and develop the new home for Strings in the Mountains was raised among 35 individuals (including former board members) and a single private foundation, which Clagett declined to name. She said they are people who have a strong commitment to the festival and the role it plays in Steamboat.
"I think it's an indication of how important this is to that group of people that Strings can look forward to the future of the music festival and its place in the community," Clagett said.