Multimillion-dollar arts center discussed

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— Robert Ritschel and Nancy Kramer are advancing a proposal they believe could lead to the construction of a new center for the performing and visual arts on the Alpine Campus of Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs.

The arts center might be as large as 36,000 square feet and cost between $9 million and $10 million. It could include a 299-seat theater, rehearsal space for dance, theater and music, as well as classrooms and art studios.

"We are positioned right now to make a move toward this," Ritschel said.

Ritschel is dean of the Alpine Campus. Kramer is executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council. Their vision for the facility would involve a partnership that would allow CMC students and members of community arts organizations to use the facilities.

They hosted a pair of meetings with Arts Council affiliates, one Monday night and another Tuesday morning.

Ritschel stressed that the CMC administration and its board are far from making a decision to build an arts center in Steamboat. But the subject has been broached. The proponents say they will not seek additional tax dollars to fund the project. CMC is funded largely by its own property tax levy.

The genesis of the plan came in autumn 2000, when Ritschel served on a task force that met with a consulting firm to discuss launching an effort to fund and build a facility for Steamboat.

"I asked, 'What if CMC could come to the table with a gift of property? What would that do?'" Ritschel recalled.

Kramer said that members of the task force quickly saw a benefit in pairing performance with educational facilities.

"It dawned on us that if the really compelling part is the educational piece, wouldn't it be advantageous to take the performance piece and put it in the educational context?" Kramer said.

Early this year, the Arts Council funded an in-depth study with Andrews and Anderson Architects, which includes a detailed inventory of arts facilities in the community. The study makes the case that there is a demand for more and better facilities.

"We went through a daunting task of laying down information to establish a needs case in the community," Kramer said.

Although he has been working on the possibility of a shared facility for three years, it was just a week ago that Ritschel sat down with other campus deans and the CMC administration to address the subject on a formal basis.

Ritschel said the Alpine Campus in Steamboat is the only one of CMC's seven primary campuses that has documented a short-term urgent need for additional classrooms. And though there always will be competition for funding among the campuses, none of the other campuses has stated a desire to establish a performing arts major, he added. Ritschel said funding a performing and visual arts complex would take the CMC administration and board into uncharted territory.

"It is so radically different from what they've done up to this point," Ritschel said. "Before, they have focused on meeting basic educational needs. We are at a point in the history of our institution to start looking at it very seriously -- to have a performing arts major."

Building a new arts center would meet his institution's needs by opening up classrooms in Bristol Hall that are used for classes in the arts, as well as creating room for a new arts curriculum in the new facility, Ritschel said.

The arts complex also would provide rehearsal and performance space for organizations such as the community orchestra, Steamboat Community Players, Steamboat Dance Theatre, choral groups and others.

Ritschel said the answer to the question, "How much money would CMC invest in the arts center?" could be all, none or part. But for the purposes of discussion, he said, suppose that out of a construction budget of $9 million, one-third could be supplied by CMC and another third could come from a capital campaign spearheaded by community organizations. The final funding component might come from Front Range-based foundations.

Ritschel and Kramer said they have no entity in place to take the proposal to the community at present but promised to assemble a task force "very soon" in order to undertake a feasibility study.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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