Ben and Jerry's, Quiznos on tap

Wildhorse developer signs leases with new businesses, possible theater

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The developer of Wildhorse Marketplace confirmed this week he is close to signing a lease with a theater chain that intends to build a six-plex theater in a new commercial center under construction on Mount Werner Road.

"We have signed a letter of intent with a movie theater operator," who intends to occupy a planned 11,000-square-foot building, developer Whitney Ward said. "We think having a (new) movie theater is a real positive thing for Steamboat Springs."

Construction of the theater building would not begin before 2005. Ward said that though his existing plan for the building would remain unchanged, he must return to the city planning process before the theater could open. Assistant City Planning Director Tim McHarg confirmed the "community commercial" zone district in which Wildhorse is situated does not provide for movie theaters.

That means Ward would have to apply for a planned-unit development permit. Typically, that would require the developer to offer some form of public amenity or benefit to win approval, McHarg said.

In addition to announcing the new theater, Ward said he has signed leases with Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop, Quiznos sandwiches, a high-end Italian coffee shop called Amanti, a yet-to-be-named independent restaurant and a local real estate office.

Film fans can expect the new theater to offer auditorium seating, reclining love seats and "gourmet" concessions, according to the operators.

Amanti is owned by Jamie Temple, Ward said. He was one of the principals in the ranch/conservation, luxury home subdivision Storm Mountain Ranch.

Ward said Ben and Jerry's was selected from among three ice cream operations that wanted to locate in his commercial center. He turned down Coldstone Creamery and Marble Slab Creamery because he was attracted to Ben and Jerry's corporate philosophy.

"We selected Ben and Jerry's because of their name recognition and because they have a policy of donating a portion of their gross to local nonprofits," Ward said.

Ward said the ice cream shop would be operated by a franchisee -- a young couple from Carbondale.

A 2,600-square-foot space in one of the Wildhorse buildings closest to the public transit stop has been leased to Darrin Fryer, who plans to open an independent restaurant by June 1, 2005. Fryer does not have a name for the restaurant, but said the cuisine will fulfill a niche not presently being served in Steamboat.

Fryer, who last owned a large fitness club, said he is seeking a local chef and a local restaurant manager interested in an equity opportunity in his restaurant.

Prudential Steamboat Realty also has agreed to take the majority of the space in a free-standing office building at Wildhorse, Ward said. That firm's Hal Unruh will handle local leasing for the center.

Ward said he offered the new theater an attractive rental rate to conform with the margins movie theaters operate under. He said he felt signing the theater was important to his efforts to attract the retailers and restaurants that will create the pedestrian environment and mix of uses he seeks for Wildhorse.

The new movie theater operator would be part of an alliance of two existing chains that will bring former Chief Plaza cinema operator Marshall Smith back to Steamboat.

The company is called Metropolitan/Rocky Mountain Cinemas. Smith is the principal in Rocky Mountain Resort Cinemas, which already operates movie theaters in ski towns such as Aspen, Sun Valley, Idaho and Whistler British Columbia. His operation announced in September 2003 that it would join with Metropolitan Theaters based in Los Angeles to increase its position in mountain towns.

In addition to Steamboat, the group is planning to build theaters n Park City, Utah; Hailey, Idaho, Boise, Idaho, and Squamish, B.C.

The most notable activity at the Wildhorse site this week is the construction of the steel skeleton of a two-story, 20,000-square-foot building that will contain Gart Sports/Sports Authority.

Residents can expect to see another building rising from its foundation any day. In all, the project comprises eight buildings totaling more than 88,000 square feet.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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