Center board ready to start over with new building
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 05 June 2013
Council wants public feedback

The subject line on the staff memo to the Crested Butte Town Council sums it up: “Center for the Arts, Request to Consider Demolition of Existing Center.”


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As part of a discussion that has been going on for years—if not more than a decade—the question was touched on again Monday night in the Town Council chambers: How to expand the Crested Butte Center for the Arts in a way that respects the community and provides a better experience for many facets of the local art community. And the Center for the Arts board is leaning toward starting over by tearing down or donating the current facility. The Town Council wants some public feedback before addressing the possibility of razing the town-owned facility. They’ll discuss it at the its council meeting on Monday, July 1.
Representatives of the Center for the Arts gave a lengthy history of the facility and its recent growth at a council work session on June 3. They then made the pitch for not just an expanded facility but a brand new building.
“Attendance for programs at the Center has grown tremendously over the last many years for almost everything that is held there,” explained Center president Melissa Belkin.
Executive director Jenny Birnie concurred. “We are bursting at the seams,” she said. “We are now striving to provide something for everyone, whether it’s the visual arts, dance, or concerts. Our attendance is over the top. We are and want to continue to be a big part of this community and an economic driver in the valley. If we want a state-of-the-art building, we need to do some real work. We have to do something different with the building we have now.”
Expansion discussions for the building began in earnest in 2001. Citizen committees such as CBAR (Crested Butte Arts and Recreation) were formed and focus groups consulted. The current expansion discussion was started in 2009. Preliminary plans call for expanding the current 7,000-square-foot building, which was a former county shop and garage, to more than 24,000 square feet, with most of the growth happening on the east and north sides of the current facility.
The expansion would eliminate some current park space. It would not impact the soccer field where Alpenglow concerts are held.
The performance space would go from 215 seats to 260, but would have an expanded stage and technical capabilities.

How would it work with a MTCBPAC?
Councilperson Glenn Michel asked how the potential construction of a Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center would affect the downtown arts center’s future.
“Honestly, we haven’t figured it all out yet,” Birnie replied. “We are opening the lines of communication. We are talking about sharing some staff to maybe do bookings. The Crested Butte Music Festival will be holding most of its performances up there but doing a lot of rehearsal down here. But for rehearsals, they need things like soundproof rooms.”
“So you expect the pie to expand further rather than being in a situation where you two are fighting over limited numbers?” Michel asked.
“Absolutely,” said Birnie. “We are bursting. There is lots of potential for both facilities based on the growth that’s occurred.”
“We’ve outgrown the capacity for things like office space and meeting rooms, and especially rehearsal space,” said Belkin. “We want to be a home for all in the arts community but a lot of things are difficult with the current space. Access for those with disabilities is hard. The technical aspects of putting on performances aren’t easy. But we want to be a community arts center. We want the performance space to remain intimate but have it improved.”

Getting set up
Longtime Center board member and architect Jennifer Hartman told the council that the board has already spent some money to prepare for a capital campaign to help fund an expansion. “We’ve tried to be thoughtful and put some pieces in place,” she said. “We have a 50-year lease with the town. We have an approved footprint from the town. We are working on long-term leases with our users and partners. We are on our way and ready for the next steps.”
One of the next steps is to consider starting over. Hartman said the Center board has been meeting with current users to get feedback on the pros and cons of the expansion.
“To serve the mission and do what’s best for the community we feel we need to replace the building,” said Belkin. “The board voted unanimously in March to replace the building. It is estimated that that will add just 10 percent to the projected cost versus a renovation.”
Belkin said the project could be done in a 10-month window and cost about $11 million (compared to $10 million for a renovation). “When the board heard what the technical team had to say, that swayed some of them,” she said.
So the Center asked the Town Council for support in looking at the possibility of removing the building and constructing a new one. They wanted to make sure they didn’t spend time and money working on a plan that the council might ultimately deny.

Should the council even weigh in?
That opened another discussion about the appropriateness of the council weighing in at all at this time, but especially before any public input had been taken about the idea.
Crested Butte building and zoning director Bob Gillie told the council that it would not be approving any demolition that evening. “There will be a long public process to discuss a lot of things that come with this expansion,” he said. “They’re looking for a first step to feel out the idea with the council. There are lots of hoops to go through. It’s a toe-in-the-water-type meeting.”
But Councilperson Michel, a former Board of Zoning and Architectural Review chairperson, reminded everyone there is a big process to go through on this type of project. He said given certain situations, the council could ultimately act as a quasi-judicial body and have to deliberate over the approval or disapproval of expansion plans that go through BOZAR.
“I’m uncomfortable to go there yet,” he told the representatives. “It’s an exciting project but I don’t really want to say more than that at the moment. I want the public to have an opportunity to vent. The cart may be ahead of the horse on this one.”
“The Center wants to know if they can consider this as an option, not an approval,” said Gillie.
“It’s a struggle to run a non-profit to raise funds for things like architecture and then go to BOZAR and then have the council say no,” said Belkin.
Owen said that was simply the process. He agreed with Michel and said the town had to hold the same standards for projects on town property as they did for private ventures.
Councilperson Roland Mason also told the Center representatives the council would likely be changing some members before the project got under way. A council election is set for this fall.
“Personally, I’ve always thought a remodel would be challenging,” Mason said. “The town is at a point where we need to upgrade some of the facilities in general. I’d lean toward being okay with the idea.”
“It’s just premature to vote on it,” said Michel. “We’d be remiss to go forward. We need public input before even considering it.”
Mayor pro-tem Jim Schmidt disagreed. He was ready to pull the trigger and give the Center the okay to at least consider a demolition option.
During the actual council meeting, Michel re-emphasized the impact of the council voting to approve such a consideration. “In people’s minds, they’ll think the bulldozers will be out there this week. Expect a lot of phone calls. We’d be perceived as saying we’re okay with the tear-down and I’m not comfortable with that.”
“I’d just as soon get the phone calls,” said Schmidt. “I want to get the temperature of the people on the issue.”
Given that Councilmember Shaun Matusewicz and Mayor Aaron Huckstep were not at the meeting, the council decided to put the issue on the July 1 council meeting as a discussion item.
They all emphasized that they wanted to receive input on the idea from the public.