Downtown Steamboat's Chief Theater attracts 10,000 patrons since Nov. 1

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Goal achieved, Cook steps down from theater board

Jim Cook, who had the original version and perseverance needed to bring the historic Chief Theater into the ownership of a community nonprofit, confirmed Thursday that he has stepped down from the board of Friends of the Chief.

“I thought it was a good time,” Cook said. “I’m pursuing some other initiatives downtown that you’ll hear about soon. I think it’s time for the board and for (Executive Director) Scott (Parker) and (Board President) Alice (Klauzer) to blossom under their own plan.”

Cook said it was rewarding to see live theater return to Steamboat at the Chief during the winter, with 600 people attending performances by the Chief Players.

“It was all satisfying,” Cook said.

“Jim Cook had a vision and he was very passionate about it,” Klauzer said. “The Chief wouldn’t be here today if Jim didn’t get it going.”

— Ski season is winding down but Steamboat’s newest cultural venue, the Chief Theater, still is adding to a winter-long string of successes. People who got a glimpse of rehearsals for Friday and Saturday’s Duel of the Strings, featuring guitarist Mak Grgic and cellist John Sant’Ambrogio, came away buzzing.

The movie theater, built in 1926, was purchased by the nonprofit Friends of the Chief for $1.45 million in October 2012 with help from private investors who expect someday to be paid back. But for now, the anonymous investors are standing back and watching the Chief hit its stride and continue to pay its bills.

Progress toward the Chief’s goal of becoming a community cultural resource in the first 12 months after the purchase was gradual. Suddenly this winter, under the guidance of a new executive director, Scott Parker, the theater has caught on with performances by touring musicians, community drama, screenings of documentary films and shows by musicians in residence such as Easy Peaces’ twice-monthly tribute to Neil Young.

Parker reported this week that when estimates of people who turned out for no-admission events such as First Friday Artwalk and free film showings are included, 10,000 people came through the doors of the 135-seat theater since Nov. 1. Of the 10,000, about 7,500 were paid admission, he said. Seating is boosted higher for many of the shows, Parker added.

“It’s something that people needed and I think with the (modest) price of the tickets and the diversity of events we’re bringing in, people know it’s for real now. People know we’re going to stay,” Friends of the Chief Board President Alice Klauzer said this week.

Parker, who had a good run in the past decade of booking entertainment into the old Steamboat Mountain Theater in Ski Time Square (since demolished), has worked some magic at the Chief. He helped to produce sold-out shows by musicians such as the Wood Brothers, Uncle Lucius and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founder John McEuen.

“One of my goals is to be there for every facet of the community, whether it’s Yampatika showing a film or it’s Emerald Mountain School doing Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’” this week.

Parker credits Steamboat businessman Brian Smith, who promotes music acts as a sideline, with landing the touring musicians who have come to the Chief this winter.

“He’s a huge music lover and he’s the kind of guy who will book the Wood Brothers (for no fee) and then buy 10 tickets to the show he promoted.”

Klauzer said she already has scheduled a board retreat for May and one of the focuses will be how to continue expanding the range of cultural events the Chief hosts while also refining the feel for the type of events that return revenues to the Chief’s bank account.

“We need to realize that we need to be a working board. It’s going to bet big as a cultural arts venue — we have to expand. June, July and August are going to be nonstop,” she said.

Klauzer, who is the business development director for Alpine Bank, said the Chief will emerge from the winter season having taken in ample money to pay its bills.

“It’s enough to do payroll and pay the utilities,” she said.

It helps, Parker said, that the investors in the foundation aren’t in a hurry to get repaid.

“We’ll be repaying the foundation soon,” Parker said. “They’ve said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ They want us to get everything in order first. They didn’t buy the building to make a profit. They’ve reassured us repeatedly, ‘We’ve got your back, don’t worry about it.’”

There are some other financial goals on the near horizon for the Chief.

Klauzer said the Chief is within $40,000 of matching a $150,000 challenge grant put up by a local couple. Reaching that goal could unlock another funding opportunity that could resolve one large detail that detracts from the audience experience at the Chief, and that’s the large vertical support column in the midst of the seating.

The couple has expressed tentative interest in funding the $70,000 to $80,000 expense of replacing the column with a horizontal beam that would be out of theatergoers’ line of sight. Those potential donors are following the progress of the Chief closely to gauge community interest and the fledgling nonprofit’s staying power, Klauzer said.

In the meantime, Parker is busy forging a new alliance with the board of Steamboat’s Free Summer Concert Series. Already, he said, one of the announced performers at the outdoor concerts at Howelsen Hill has agreed to stay another night in Steamboat to perform a more intimate show at the Chief.

That should create another buzz in downtown Steamboat.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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