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Downtown Steamboat’s Chief Plaza theater update moving forward

News delivered at annual Mainstreet meeting

— Friends of the Chief spokesman Jim Cook delivered encouraging news Friday for those supportive of the nonprofit group's effort to renovate the historic Chief Plaza movie theater.

Cook told the audience at the Mainstreet Steamboat Springs annual meeting that Friends of the Chief had been asked to submit a final application for a $4 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to convert the 1920s-era, four-screen theater in downtown Steamboat to a single-stage, 455-seat performing arts center.

"That, in essence, means you've been approved," Cook told the audience.

Friends of the Chief previously submitted a pre-application to the USDA.

After the meeting, Cook said Friends of the Chief would know for sure whether it receives the funding in May, after completing a feasibility study. If approved, Cook said Friends of the Chief would start fundraising for the $7 million project.

Despite the news about the grant, Cook acknowledged there's still a long way to go.

"While you think there might be a great deal of relief, you have the next step," he said. "I personally won't let any demolition take place until we have all the money."

Cook said the best-case scenario for construction was spring 2013 with completion in spring 2014.

To date, Cook said Friends of the Chief has raised and spent less than $100,000, including $50,000 to secure the earnest payment to buy the theater last fall from owner Michael Barry. The sale price wasn't disclosed, but the theater was listed for sale at $2.9 million.

Cook said the vision of the group is for the theater to serve as a performing arts center for community players and nonprofit groups, and Friends of the Chief has worked with Integrated Community to make it available to groups from the Latin American and West African communities. He said it also would be available for conferences and weddings, with the capacity to hold 750 people for standing-room-only events.

Other Mainstreet news

Also at the annual meeting, Mainstreet Steamboat Manager Tracy Barnett gave a short "State of Mainstreet" presentation.

She said downtown sales tax collections in 2011 exceeded every corresponding month from 2010 with the exception of January. Although eight downtown businesses closed last year, Barnett said 14 opened and three others moved into the district. She said five condominium and three commercial building sales totaled $6.34 million. And Barnett said more than $2 million in public infrastructure improvements were made last year, mostly by the city.

"Things are looking up," she said. "There are still some businesses that aren't out of the woods, but in general, people have streamlined their businesses. There's a vibrancy and energy that hasn't been there in a while. People aren't ready to give a sigh of relief, but they're thinking about it."

For Mainstreet, specifically, Barnett said volunteers donated 896 hours totaling more than $19,300 in in-kind labor. She said the 14-week Mainstreet Farmers Market generated about $25,000 in revenue for the organization and $5,600 in sales taxes for the city. Barnett said Mainstreet is looking to expand the farmers market this year after it was maxed out with 67 booths last year.

Other Mainstreet fundraisers the Downtown Hoedown and Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge generated about $6,000, and Sisters in Steamboat broke even, Barnett said. She said Mainstreet's 137 members — about two-thirds of downtown retailers, two-thirds of downtown restaurants and one-fourth of downtown services and offices — generated another $23,000 for the organization.

In 2012, Barnett said Mainstreet hopes to find out whether it was named one of five Great American Mainstreet Award winners, create a creative district downtown, continue the visioning for future Yampa Street improvements and decide whether to pursue a property tax in the existing business improvement district for a more consistent funding source for the Mainstrett program and marketing and advertising for the downtown district.

Also Friday:

■ Barnett recognized outgoing Mainstreet Board of Directors member Shauna Lamansky and welcomed new member Kassandra Collins, owner of Acqua Spa and Salon on Oak Street.

■ Barnett showed the video that Mainstreet created for the Great American Mainstreet Awards.

■ HJ Stalf, former executive director of the Grand Junction downtown development authority and business improvement district, spoke about his experience with elections to fund marketing and advertising of downtown districts.

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com