Our View: Why closing the Chief is a good thing
September 4, 2012
Seventy-plus years of a theater in downtown Steamboat Springs appear to be coming to at least a temporary end Thursday when the Chief Plaza Theater closes its doors. Truth be told, the theater's closing might be the best thing to happen to the historic downtown building, which has deteriorated throughout the years into a second-rate entertainment venue.
While it's easy to romanticize the notion of a vibrant downtown cinema that harkens to simpler times, the reality is that neither Carmike Cinemas nor the building's owner have adequately maintained the facility that dates to the 1920s. We hope this week's closure — precipitated by the end of Carmike's lease agreement with building owner Michael Barry — escalates the earnestness with which Barry and a group calling itself Friends of the Chief work to get a deal done that eventually will breathe new life into the Chief Plaza Theater.
We've long been intrigued by the Friends of the Chief's proposal, which seeks to secure public and private financing to purchase the building and renovate it into a single-stage performing arts venue reminiscent of the theater's original design. But the effort has encountered numerous obstacles, foremost being how to secure financing to help offset the purchase price and renovation costs, estimated to be about $7 million. When news of the Chief's pending closure broke last week, Friends of the Chief leaders detailed their latest efforts to purchase the building, which include forming a limited liability company.
Barry's real estate representative, Jon Sanders, says Barry's first choice remains to close on the deal with Friends of the Chief and see his theater reborn as a lively downtown performing arts venue. But Sanders said they could lease the building in the short-term to other groups.
No one wants to see another prominent downtown building with vacancy signs in the windows. And as bad as the moviegoing experience at the Chief had become in recent years, the presence of a downtown theater certainly helped other downtown businesses increase foot traffic while also providing a safe, accessible place for the community's kids and teens to hang out.
Even so, Steamboat Springs moviegoers are the near-term winners with Thursday's closure. The best movies now will be shown exclusively at the best movie theater in town — Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas in Wildhorse Marketplace. It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of the Chief's closing will be, but we're hopeful the end of one era will lead to the beginning of a better one for the historic downtown theater facility.