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.


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.”


Michael Brumbaugh 6 years, 9 months ago

I attended the meeting last evening and think it's exciting that folks in town are wanting to create a viable performing arts space. After hearing the presentation, however, my only caution or concern would be the narrowness of the stage for theatrical productions. All other usages of the space that were presented seemed definitely viable.

As a person with an extensive background in professional, educational and community theatre and who has worked with Steamboat Players, the Mountain Theater and the Arts Council over the last five years directing theatrical productions here, I want to make sure the community understands that this venue would only be able to produce relatively smallish stage productions. Once you figure in areas on the stage itself where you need room on the sides and rear for storing sets, props and other stage pieces as well as room for adequate entrances and exits to the stage from different places, you'd really be looking at a playing (or dancing) area about 20' wide by 25' deep: a space a little narrower than what we had at the Depot for the last two theatrical productions there. The benefit, however, of this proposed space over the Depot's would be it's larger and more effective seating arrangement, and it's stated "state-of-the-art" (though that was not apparent in the presentation) lighting/sound abilities.

I mention this largely because one of the gentleman making a presentation asked the audience to envision dressing up for perhaps a night out at the opera here. Sad to say, but most operas could not be performed easily on this size stage, as well as many published and/or established theatrical works. It would be a nice size for productions like Pirate Theatre and Cabaret, though, as well as any smaller more intimate type show.

I'm not naysaying the idea of the renovation of the theatre. Overall, I think it's definitely worth pursuing. I just want to caution the community not to think this would be an adequate venue for many if not most "real" theatre productions. For that, I think more thought needs to be put into a genuine, larger performing arts center, sometime perhaps in the near future, similar to what Grand Lake is doing in their small town and what Jackson Hole recently did for theirs. If a larger venue was built, it could truly be a multi-purpose performing arts center that could also include larger touring shows.

Thank you for your consideration.

M. Brumbaugh Artistic Director, Steamboat Players

(Productions directed here in town recently: "The Real Inspector Hound"; "Kimberly Akimbo"; "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"; "Harvey"; "All Shook Up"; "Steel Magnolias"; "Godspell"; "Arsenic and Old Lace")


Matthew Stoddard 6 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for the rest of the story, Mike. Jenn and I weren't able to go due to scheduling conflicts and only 1 car for the night.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 9 months ago

I wish such expensive endeavors such as this ($8.8M) were based upon a plan. This appears to be a mixture of different groups that all hope to get what they want and hope that the money will appear. The historical preservation people want the building restored. The downtown business people like the idea of holding events downtown. The arts people like the idea of a venue largely paid by other people.

Seems to me that the one thing that is missing is exactly whom would occupy the space, do they have anything close to the budget and funding to operate in that space, and do they want to operate in that space?


JLM 6 years, 9 months ago

A 380 seat performing arts center at $23K per seat is nonsense. The seating is way too small to have a viable financial performance while the cost per seat is way, way, way too high.


Matthew Stoddard 6 years, 9 months ago

Scott- from what I get from the article, the Friends of the Chief is a group of private investors and not specifically tied to any of the different groups looking to use a stage like this. Since I wasn't there, I can't confirm that. The Arts reps that they quote in the article and Mike Brumbaugh were there for the pitch. As for the plan, since I wasn't there, I can't speak to it. I'm assuming the plan was laid out last night from what I read in the article and Mike's post.

All endeavors require backing of some sort, even sports arenas. Not everyone is a sports fan, but they end up having tax dollars build stadiums because of the tax revenue that will be earned for the city. This could start something where in the summer, we have Theater Festivals instead of Triple Crown or a combination of both thru the summer. It might be a place to bring bigger named live bands to town, also. Some of us don't like going to a bar atmosphere to see music.

A lot of performers in town need backers to make a performing arts center work because we rarely get paid to do a show. We all work regular jobs and do this as a hobby. Most shows, we perform for free for the love of performing. That's how we pay, in a fashion. We donate our time in order to entertain people. Those that enjoy it, pay for a ticket to support these venues. This article isn't asking for tax revenues, it's asking for private citizens to help make it happen. If you don't enjoy these performances, that's fine, too. As performers, we don't force people to come watch. Those wallets shouldn't be affected in the least.


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