Local arts community likes idea of expanding Big Mine Ice Arena use
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Add some sprinklers and you can have a big concert

Call it a case of having too much success too soon. The newly covered Big Mine Ice Arena in Crested Butte has been in operation less than a year, yet it is being seen as much more than an ice rink by many people in the community.

 

 

News Generic

 

The space is expansive, the shelter is comforting and it is one of the few places in Crested Butte that could comfortably seat more than a few hundred people in a Crested Butte summer. But given its construction parameters and town code regulations, the number of people that can gather under the arena’s roof is limited to 299. That is causing some frustration in the community and pointing out the need for a larger entertainment venue in the valley.
“People say it’s a big metal building on a concrete slab that won’t burn and I get that thinking,” town building and zoning director Bob Gillie told the council Monday night. “But nevertheless, we’ve adopted the IBC [International Building Code] and that contains several requirements. Without a sprinkler system, only 299 persons can be in there. The arts community is asking to expand that.”
Gillie said it was estimated that it would cost about $80,000 to install a sprinkler and alarm system in the arena.
“We didn’t build a Big Mine Events Center,” said Gillie. “We built a covered ice rink. We would have built it differently if it were an events center. Not that it couldn’t happen down the road with certain additions, but it’s not there now.”
Councilperson David Owen asked if removing the dasher boards and glass surrounding the rink would alleviate the need for sprinklers. The answer was no.
“The Music Festival utilized the rink last summer for our big fundraiser and it was a wildly successful event,” said Crested Butte Music Festival director of development Kim Bosler. “We limited the number of people but the venue worked really well.
“We’re here tonight looking for an understanding from the council that there is a real need out there for larger venues,” Bosler said, speaking for representatives of the Center for the Arts, the Adaptive Sports Center and the Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center, representatives of which were also in attendance at the Town Council meeting. “We have all grown and more people are attending all of our events. We wish there was a way to expand the official capacity of the ice arena. We feel using that venue for other events that can accommodate our needs is a good use of public dollars.”
Bosler noted the Music Festival paid a rental fee last summer and is known to help generate sales tax revenues in town. The same could be said for the other non-profit organizations in the valley.
“The things we all do are a great benefit to the town as a whole,” Bosler reminded the council. “We understand the town codes and the limits that are in place. We are trying to raise awareness of the need for bigger venues and see if we can all work together to figure out a way to make this one work.”
“We are having the same issues,” agreed Adaptive Sports development director Ella Fahrlander. “We are getting tight at the Lacy Barn with close to 500 people attending our summer fundraiser. This community absolutely needs bigger venues. The events we all put on raise quite a bit of money for our organizations and they are a substantial piece of our budget. There have to be other options and ideas out there.”
Bosler said last summer’s Music Festival event accommodated the 299 people allowed by code but filled up only about one-third of the ice rink space. Crested Butte’s Parks and Recreation director Jake Jones said the ice rink is about 17,000 square feet.
“The Center for the Arts is picking up the Crested Butte Wine and Food Festival next July and this would be a great space,” added Center for the Arts executive director Jennie Birnie. “We are looking at various venues but we want to keep it in town.”
“The problem is the same now as it was ten years ago,” said Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center (MTCBPAC) executive director Woody Sherwood. “It is a very immediate issue. A solution will eventually be found but we just aren’t sure it will be in Crested Butte or not.”
“I’m aware of an [organization] that was looking for space in the area to hold an event and couldn’t find a space large enough in Crested Butte,” said Councilperson Shaun Matusewicz. “They could have done it in Mt. Crested Butte but were so worried about revenues for a first-year event that they didn’t want to pay the 4 percent admissions tax. So we definitely could see business through this.”
“We recognize the need in the community and we know what has to happen to move forward,” said town manager Susan Parker. “It will take an improvement and investment in the facility. Are the organizations willing to partner with the town to raise money or apply for grants to pay for the improvements?”
The representatives said they were willing to consider any idea and option.
“I am disappointed everyone is so entrenched in the code and we can’t figure this out,” said Councilperson Jim Schmidt. “I certainly don’t want to see any dangerous situations but we have a lot of events where safety personnel are staged. Why couldn’t a fire truck be on scene if it’s such a danger? Everyone is saying it’s just not possible. I am frustrated the country has turned into a place that seems to be run by insurance companies and lawyers.
“We should look at the partnership idea to pay for the sprinkler system,” Schmidt continued. “I’m not sure how much would be raised but it is worth exploring, and sooner rather than later.”
“Even at $80,000, it is a relative bargain to grow that to a venue that could hold 800 or 900 people along with a stage,” said Matusewicz.
“Putting 700 or 800 people in there might be reasonable and then we have to start thinking of the bigger picture like parking and bathrooms,” Gillie reminded the council.
“We can look at ways to add a surcharge or something like an admissions tax,” suggested Councilperson Roland Mason.
“If we make that investment is there some long-term commitment to use the facility,” asked Mayor Aaron Huckstep. “If the MTCBPAC comes on line with 500 new seats in three years, is this just a temporary fix?”
“The MTCBPAC is a 500-seat performance hall,” responded Bosler. “We couldn’t do what we did last summer in that facility. Adaptive is seeing the 500-person limit with their event already. Shaun is pointing out other parties interested in such a venue. Heck, it looked so good last summer, it could be used for large wedding receptions. I’d have my daughter’s reception in there.
“We need to look at where the valley is evolving and where we want to be,” Bosler continued. “I don’t think it’s just a three-year deal. It has great long-term potential.”
“We have existing issues over there already with the crowdedness of the Nordic Center,” pointed out Huckstep. “To spend $100,000 for this and not the other issues would be tough. If only we had unlimited money.”
“We always considered some larger and expanded uses over there,” said Jones. “Seeing the Music Festival event there was a highlight of my career. I loved seeing the venue being used for something more than hockey. But we didn’t build certain uses into the facility right away. We are trying to deal with the ramifications of the success of the place.”
The council asked the staff to come up with hard figures for putting a sprinkler and alarm in the structure. They wanted a timeline of how long it would take to upgrade the facility and how many people would really fit in the space. They also wanted to see if local partnerships to fund the sprinkler project could actually happen.
“How the holistic property functions really matters if you start having large events going on,” said Gillie.
“The public tolerance for filling out all 14 weeks of summer with such events has to be considered too,” said Jones. “There needs to be a lot more discussion.”
The council agreed with that sentiment, and plans to have a work session to continue discussing the issue sometime this winter.