Our View: Hail to the Chief effort | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Hail to the Chief effort

A local group's hope of acquiring and renovating the Chief Plaza Theater in downtown Steamboat Springs is a refreshing example of community interests uniting for a cause that could benefit the entire city.

Friends of the Chief last week presented its goal of purchasing the aging downtown landmark and rehabilitating it into a performing arts venue. Although there have been other proposals for new Steamboat Springs performing arts venues in recent years, this one might be the most promising.

Importantly, the Chief Plaza proposal appears to unite a variety of interest groups — those representing performing and cultural arts, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs and historic preservation advocates among them. It's easy to see why the downtown business community would get behind an effort to revitalize a key building in the heart of Lincoln Avenue, particularly if that facility became a popular entertainment venue.

A renovated Chief also would provide something Steamboat lacks: a multiuse arts venue that will accommodate cultural and artistic activities in downtown while maintaining historic aesthetics.

We're struck by how different this undertaking is from other recent downtown projects. The past few years have brought tremendous change to Lincoln Avenue — specifically the construction of several large-scale, mixed-use buildings. Whether you like those additions to downtown — and we generally do — it's encouraging to see a local effort to bring an important historic structure back to relevance. Most residents know the Chief Plaza Theater has long been a dated movie theater in desperate need of renovation. Many don't know that the Chief dates back to the 1920s and has a rich history that reflects the growth of Steamboat Springs throughout the decades.

And the proposal is about more than restoring the historical structure and use of the building. It's also about continuing to create vitality in Steamboat's main commercial district. Such a venue would drive traffic to downtown, increasing customer spending and resulting in more sales tax dollars entering the city's coffers.

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But although the plans hold promise, significant hurdles remain. The listing price on the building is nearly $2.9 million, and Friends of the Chief estimates it would take another $6 million or so to complete the extensive remodel. Organizers are looking at a variety of funding methods, but there's no question private donors would be needed no matter how many grants or tax credits the group could secure. Ownership structure and facility management also are key unknown components to the plan.

Regardless of how Friends of the Chief structures potential ownership and management operations, it's worth pointing out that a project like this can't be all things to all people. For example, plans for the interior of the building are limited by the structure's footprint.

But what is clear is that the Chief Plaza Theater is for sale, it's historic and it has the potential to be transformed back into a relevant, vibrant downtown entertainment venue. We think Friends of the Chief is pursuing a worthy effort and hope the entire community will enjoy and benefit from the fruits of its labor for years to come.

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