f
ARCHIVED  September 1, 1997

Performing-arts complexes become development tools

Along the northern Front Range, performance halls in Fort Collins, Cheyenne and Greeley – once the subjects of great community debate – have become the objects of community pride. Moreover, each has become part of the chamber of commerce packages that sell these cities to individuals and corporations considering relocation. And although some constituents have opposed the building of performance halls as an economic drain, the evidence suggests that centers for performing arts have become critical to economic health, both for individual municipalities and for the region. Battles in the beginning when the Lincoln Center opened in 1978, there were no comparable facilities north of Denver. However, plans for the building were almost scrapped when it became clear that the funds from the 1973 capital-improvement program were insufficient to cover the costs of converting the vacant Lincoln Junior High into a performing and visual arts center, much less the ongoing maintenance of the facility. “The performing arts cannot support themselves and so have to be subsidized by the city,´ said David Siever, director of cultural services and facilities in Fort Collins. “And so there is not only the cost of a facility to consider, but also the ongoing support that the facility will require.” Presently, the city of Fort Collins subsidizes the administrative costs of the center, leaving the performance groups to be self-supporting. As Lincoln Center was being completed, Cheyenne was in the middle of its own campaign for a civic center. “Although one of the first opera houses in the country was built in Cheyenne, allocating money for a civic center was defeated twice by the voters,” explained Drew Rolla, director of the Cheyenne Civic Center. “It passed on the third vote, but when the building bids came in at a half-million over budget, the city council almost canceled it.” In Cheyenne, as in Fort Collins, private citizens bridged the costs for the completion of the center, which has become home to the well-respected Cheyenne Symphony and which has sold out its own season for the last seven years. Greeley’s Union Colony Civic Center, the newest – and most unusual – of the three, has faced similar challenges. By the early 1980s, Greeley had received funds from the lottery designated for a recreation center. The question was how to add a performing-arts center to make a civic center. The City Council said, “Show us the money,” and a private foundation raised more than $4 million, or about one-half of what the building would cost. “We went through two tough votes,´ said Jil Rosentrater, director of cultural affairs, “and only won the third time by a slight margin. But even after we won approval, we had to win a second vote to secure the city’s funding for maintenance. We won that one in 1985 by a little over 200 votes.” Union Colony (Greeley’s original name) Civic Center is now entering its ninth season as a performance and recreation center. One measure of the center’s success comes from the interest it has generated from municipalities such as Philadelphia, whose representatives came to study how Greeley has blended a recreation facility full of sweaty athletes and an elegant performance hall that sells out its season. Staying in business. Creating a space for the performing arts is only the first challenge to bringing the arts to town, for the business of the arts itself has changed. “It used to be that you could pay artists to come, and they would come,” Rosentrater said. “Now they want more than one gig to make the trip.” As a result of ongoing pressure to be self-supporting and of changes in the world of show business, civic-center directors have become savvy in the ways of business and marketing. They have also become adept at responding to new generations of community preferences while maintaining links with and serving those who were raised to love and support classical music, dance, and theater. They try to bring the best they can without pricing themselves out of business. One way in which cultural directors deal with the problems of rising prices is through block booking with the Rocky Mountain Arts Consortium. When Fort Collins, Greeley, and Cheyenne (as well as Boulder, Arvada, and Pueblo) can coordinate the booking of a same act, individual costs go down and the quality of the act can go up. “We also look for artists on their way up or on their way down,” Siever said. “We booked k.d. lang before she was big. We couldn’t afford her now.” Likewise, well-established artists such as Tony Bennet, Harry Belefonte, and Ben Vareen have been very popular with the “adult contemporary” season in Cheyenne. “It sometimes take two or three years to negotiate for a popular artist in our price range,” Rolla said. “We can afford Crystal Gayle but not Shania Twain.” Ripple effects of sold-out seasons. Selling out the season is the goal of every civic-center director and director of cultural affairs, and selling out has become routine in Fort Collins, Greeley and Cheyenne. “The Cheyenne Civic Center is the shining star of the community,” Rolla said. “There is nothing close to rival a performance at the center for a big night out on the town.” Similarly, the Union Colony Civic Center draws its patrons from all over Weld County. Each special occasion and each sold-out performance translates into significant business for the food and hospitality sector. Visiting artists, traveling companies and out-of-town arts lovers stay in hotels and bed and breakfasts. Stylish salons such as Paul Chet’s Studio for Hair attract celebrity guests such as Jeannie Fricke and the Oakridge Boys. In short, when the tides of performing arts come in, all ships rise. Looking to the future, Union Colony Civic Center, with the newest and largest performance hall, has arrived at that critical point when a one-night performance sells out, but maybe there is not enough audience for a second night. “Right now, Lincoln Center is at capacity,” Siever said. “Our Showstoppers series needs a bigger venue so that we can keep prices lower. We can add more nights to a performance, but that raises the cost.” The plans for the new Fort Collins performing-arts center include a 2,200-seat performance hall and a 350-seat theater. “We are looking at a land purchase date of at least by 2006,” Siever said. “Our new facility should take us well into the middle of the century.” Lincoln Center has for years been of source of pride in Fort Collins. In Greeley, every time an important person comes to town, the first stop on the tour is the Civic Center, an impressive building with an impressive performance hall. In Cheyenne, the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce makes sure that anyone considering a relocation to Wyoming understands that the Civic Center is one of the best facilities in the region. Apparently, culture matters not only to the undefinable soul of a community but to a municipality’s economic health as well.

Along the northern Front Range, performance halls in Fort Collins, Cheyenne and Greeley – once the subjects of great community debate – have become the objects of community pride. Moreover, each has become part of the chamber of commerce packages that sell these cities to individuals and corporations considering relocation. And although some constituents have opposed the building of performance halls as an economic drain, the evidence suggests that centers for performing arts have become critical to economic health, both for individual municipalities and for the region. Battles in the beginning when the Lincoln Center opened in…

Related Content