Plans for 2 downtown Fort Collins music venues shelved

8:15 AM, Feb 6, 2009   |    comments
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Plans for the privately funded 2,500-seat performance venue planned by the Bohemian Foundation and the Downtown Development Authority's amphitheater near Mason Street and Mountain Avenue have both been suspended.

In its announcement Thursday, the Bohemian Foundation said it will retain the 12.4-acre Oxbow site next to New Belgium Brewing Co. with an eye toward moving forward sometime in the future.

Executive Director Matt Robenalt said the DDA halted its $30 million project for three reasons: the economy; recommendations from its cultural facilities subcommittee that the DDA and city work more collaboratively to develop cultural facilities; and that Beet Street establish its programming more before moving to a permanent home.

Beet Street, the DDA's 2-year-old arts and cultural program arm, has been hosting events at different locations throughout downtown.

The subcommittee recommended looking at a "smaller, temporary venue" such as a tent for seasonal activities right away, Robenalt said. "They were worried Beet Street hadn't had an opportunity to test a viable programming model yet."

Beet Street director Carol Bennis was unavailable for comment.

A seasonal tent would give it "something they can immediately call their own," Robenalt said.

The DDA plans to revisit the amphitheater concept in 18 to 24 months, he said.

Stryker puts on brakes

Area residents have objected to various versions of the Bohemian Foundation's proposal, arguing it will bring too many vehicles into the adjacent Buckingham neighborhood.

"The decision is simply due to economic factors. The assets the foundation had planned to use to fund the music venue have declined in value, along with the stock market, leading to the decision to put the project on hold," said Merry Hummell of the Bohemian Foundation.

The foundation was established in 2002 by billionaire heiress Pat Stryker, who in the statement noted the foundation has given away about $50 million in the Fort Collins area.

"We intend to retain the Oxbow land and still hope to develop a music project on the site in the future - it's a question of timing," Stryker said. "We remain optimistic about the future of Fort Collins, and highly committed to doing our part to help our community fulfill its potential."

Julie Sutter, former executive director of the now defunct Arts Alive group, called the move a smart way of stepping back and taking stock.

"What I'm seeing with (the Oxbow) decision and with Arts Alive is the idea of getting back to basics and scaling back and managing things fiscally responsibly regardless of a group's income," Sutter said. "Every individual is doing the same thing right now - saying, 'Where do I want to spend my money' - I think (venues doing the same) is to be expected."

But "on-hold" doesn't mean dead in the water.

"The very nature of the arts is passion and excitement," Sutter said. "And I know that, with Oxbow, that's what it was about. I know that (Stryker) won't give up on this, but she also has to make sure to do what makes the best business sense. ... This (project) came from a real passion for music and community so I'm sure it will be back in some form."

The foundation had already made some changes to the plans to make it a better fit.

On Jan. 14, Bohemian surprised Buckingham residents when officials announced they were dropping plans for a 2,000-person outdoor seating area, onto which the main venue would have opened to project music.

Still, Betty Aragon, a community activist living in the Buckingham neighborhood, was overjoyed at the temporary reprieve.

"Oh, happy day," she said Thursday. "I wish it were indefinite, but I'm very pleased it's on hold for now. It will work in my favor so I can work on getting allies and making a better presentation to the City Council as to why this is not compatible with the neighborhood."

Aragon would prefer the Oxbow land be used for affordable housing that would "complement the neighborhood."

A concert venue will gentrify the mostly low-income neighborhood where residents are already worried about losing their homes in the economic downturn, Aragon said.

"I wish they would understand the wear and tear this is having on us ... I can't stress enough that this is not compatible with the neighborhood."

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