Town council wants ice arena prepped for large scale events
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lack of parking and toilets not a showstopper…

In true Star Trek fashion, the message from the Crested Butte Town Council to the town staff was “Make It So.” The directive was to figure out how to allow large events (events drawing more than 299 people) in the Big Mine Ice Arena in Crested Butte’s future.


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Local non-profit and arts organizations had approached the council about using the new venue for summer events that could hold hundreds of people. Last summer the Crested Butte Music Festival held a gathering of about 300 people. But the International Building Code adopted by the town prohibits allowing more people than that to gather under the roof without the building having a sprinkler system.
On Monday, January 7 interim town manager Bob Gillie gave the council a memo estimating the cost to renovate the building with sprinklers at about $111,000. He also outlined the obvious concerns that come with allowing large events in that space: lack of parking and toilets.
“Realistically, the current parking on the site only accommodates 192 people,” the memo stated. “…A long term use of the facility should anticipate adding restroom facilities.”
The memo recommends a total of nine restroom “fixtures” if 700 people are using the venue.
There are currently four in the nearby Nordic Center warming house.
“I look at this report and I think of Alpenglow,” said Mayor Aaron Huckstep. “Alpenglow draws 1,000 or even 2,000 people to the event on Mondays in the summer. It is great for the town and the parking and the bathrooms are not big issues. To think that we would stop Alpenglow because we don’t have formal parking for 2,000 people would be a terrible decision for town. These aren’t big issues to me. Am I out of line?”
“I agree totally,” said councilperson Shaun Matusewicz. “I had the same notes about Alpenglow. This is a town where people like to walk or ride their bikes to events.”
“Alpenglow started at the Depot and grew over time,” responded Gillie. “Parking is a mess. Because we have set that standard by default doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about these things. The direction to the staff was to analyze the issues.”
“And I think we can find ways to make it work,” said Huckstep.
“These are issues relevant to the site,” said Gillie. “Should we not even discuss them? There are ways to accommodate the issues.”
“The site is serviced by a Mountain Express bus stop,” added Councilperson Jim Schmidt. “People can find their way there without having to drive. The $110,000 to install sprinklers is a number larger than I expected. But I think this is a good opportunity to keep something viable downtown. Realistically, I would only expect five or six summer events there at the most. It would take dipping into town reserves to pay for the sprinklers but maybe we raise the rental fee from the $750 it is now to something more appropriate that can help pay that money back.”
“Let’s not forget indirect revenue,” suggested Matusewicz. “Increased sales tax in town would help pay for it. If we don’t allow it, we won’t see that sales tax. I’d discourage a huge use fee.”
Councilperson Roland Mason revisited a suggestion to see if a town admissions tax, similar to the one in Mt. Crested Butte, could be added to tickets sold for events held at Big Mine.
“But the overall impact of such a tax hurts everyone,” said Matusewicz. “It’s 4 percent off the Eldo bands and 4 percent off things like the Alley Loop. That’s rough.”
Huckstep said that discussion was way down the road and he tried to refocus the discussion back on whether the council thought it worthwhile to pursue renovations that would allow big groups at Big Mine and if so, how to pay for the improvements.
Town finance director Lois Rozman cautioned the council to not ignore costs associated with running a big events center. “Don’t divorce yourselves from ongoing costs to maintain the facility,” she said. “There’s electricity and maintenance and eventually more staff and clean-up. There are real costs. How do you pay for it?”
Gillie said if the hockey boards aren’t removed, there is about 16,000 square feet beneath the roof. That could hold more than 1,000 people. Even more could be allowed if the boards are removed.
“God bless us if we start drawing events that big,” said Matusewicz.
Crested Butte Music Festival director Alexander Scheirle said the event they held under the roof last summer was a great success and they hoped to do it again in 2013. “We agree that larger events like ours should take care of the issues brought up tonight,” he said. “We provided port-a-potties. We provided a shuttle between the school parking lot and the venue. It is our duty to do it and we do it at certain events. If it rains, you can’t have people that are dressed up walking from the school to the rink.
“Any organization should be expected to provide solutions to those issues,” he continued. “That then becomes a non-issue. Everything we do at the music festival costs money. And it goes back into the community. But we help enhance Crested Butte. We are a big economic impact on the valley. The music festival helps make Crested Butte a better destination.”
Scheirle said his organization is running out of local spaces to use. They have either been torn down, such as Rafter’s and the old Crested Butte Academy building, or the festival has simply outgrown the space. “It’s a huge struggle for us,” he told the council. “The question really is, what do we want to be at this end of the valley? Art is a wonderful addition that works economically and enhances the valley. Even when the Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center comes on line, we will need a bigger space like Big Mine provides.”
Parks and recreation director Jake Jones said changing focus on the venue would change the phasing plans of Big Mine Park. “This isn’t what we anticipated as the next big issue,” he said. “Honestly, we didn’t see the need to sprinkle the building so quickly. But here we are.”
Jones said aside from the music fest gala, two weddings are already booked for the space this summer.
Nordic Council director Keith Bauer supported seeing events in the rink in the summer. “But I look at the $110,000 and I look at the current warming house and I would rather see the money spent on the current plan. I can’t guess how many times the warming house exceeds occupancy in the winter. I’d like to see that problem solved first before expanding to other things. It’s a real safety issue. To see that place packed and it’s a matchbox, is a real safety concern. Come over during the week at 4 o’clock and see. It’s a junk show. In my mind, the warming house should be a priority. Nordic skiers can’t even find a bench to change their boots.”
“That’s one of the toughest pieces of this analysis puzzle,” said Huckstep. “I think we need a more comprehensive analysis and more real numbers for all phases and plans.”
“A sprinkler system is a relatively quick thing to do,” said Mason. “Planning a warming house expansion would take a different time frame.”
“The reality is that some day we will pay to put a sprinkler system in the roof,” said Schmidt. “It seems it is something we can do quickly. I know Lois hates the idea of prying $110,000 out of the reserves but I’m leaning toward doing it now.”
Mason suggested that the arts community might be able to raise money to help pay for the upgrade.
“We’ll name the sprinkler system after you,” quipped Matusewicz.
“We’ve been pretty good about tackling the separate components,” said Jones. “But a word of caution. We still need to plan for the aggregate. And at some point, the planning will cost money. There will be real expenditures for things like architecture and engineering to get a real plan.”
“I’d like to walk away from spending $110,000 right away,” said Huckstep. “We need a lot more information. It sounds like we need a more thorough plan instead of a Band-Aid. We can make a quick sprinkler decision but that could end up being a short-term fix and a real problem.”
“I don’t see it as a problem. I see it as a potential,” responded Schmidt. “But I agree that the warming house and Nordic situation should be addressed. It’s such a success over there between the Nordic and skating that it’s a mess.”
“Is an expensive sprinkler system the only option in a steel building that sits on concrete?” asked Adaptive Sports development director Ella Fahrlander. “It probably won’t catch fire. Aren’t there other alternatives?”
Huckstep responded that the concern was for the “stuff” inside the rink. He cited things like tables and centerpieces and people as opposed to a structure fire.
“The staff and fire department are citing the code but is the code strictly black-and-white?” asked music festival development director Kim Bosler. “Are there things that could be amended and done to mitigate the risk?
“I know you guys have a tough decision,” she continued. “But don’t lose sight of the opportunity that is there. It can be a great venue and a long term benefit to the town.”
 “I disagree with Kim,” said Matusewicz. “It’s not a tough decision. For me it’s an easy decision. If we are serious about growing business in this town, events are an easy way to do it. People come in, have a good time and then leave. The character of the town remains. You don’t have to build more condos. It’s an easy decision on our part.”
“This staff report isn’t productive to advance the conversation,” said Huckstep. “I think we need to ask the staff to find ways to move forward. But they need to look at all the issues over there.”
After an hour, the council directed the staff to come up with a “preferred method” to allow large events at Big Mine Arena. They want direction on whether the council should consider a change to the code, install a sprinkler system or find another alternative. The staff was directed to come up with specific hard costs of a comprehensive plan and the timing of implementing such a plan. The council wants to essentially see the impacts of changing the Big Mine master plan phasing and they want to make sure they don’t jeopardize the grant money used to build the roofed structure.
“I don’t think it will be easy,” said Huckstep.
“But I don’t want to see this thing tossed into the fog machine,” said Schmidt. “I want to see something done.”
The council left the staff with its direction but no specific timeline to return with options. However, the implication was to open some sort of door for the coming summer.