Boulder performance spaces

Dairy Center for the Arts has three performance spaces that seat 80, 140 and 250 respectively.

University of Colorado is home to Macky Auditorium Concert Hall, which seats 2,000, and Grusin Music Hall, which seats 500

Boulder Theater seats between 850 and 1,000.

Chautauqua Auditorium seats 1,300 and is open from May to September.

If you go

What: Civic Area Preference Open House

When: 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Cafeteria of Boulder High School, 1604 Arapahoe Ave.

More info:

A new performing arts center that could draw national touring acts is among the ideas proposed for the "civic heart" of Boulder.

The idea is still very much in the conceptual stage, with proponents working on a feasibility study and city planners considering whether to include it in a Civic Area Master Plan for central Boulder.

The proposal calls for a theater that could seat somewhere between 900 and 1,200 people and a variety of other arts spaces and uses. The Dairy Center for the Arts has much smaller theaters, while the University of Colorado has smaller and larger venues. The Boulder Theater and Chautauqua Auditorium are of similar size, but Chautauqua is largely booked with the Colorado Music Festival during the summer months it is open. The Boulder Theater largely hosts music performances and movies.

Lawrence Anderson, executive director of the Boulder Center for the Performing Arts, a non-profit that is exploring the feasibility of building a new facility, stressed that the project is in a very early stage. The city has not decided whether to include a performing arts venue in its Civic Area Master Plan, and the group has not completed a feasibility analysis.

Anderson said his organization "feels very much that the ball is in the city's court."

Study will consider sustainability

If the city includes an arts center in its master plan for central Boulder, a feasibility study will help answer questions about the right size for the theater and how to ensure the center will be economically sustainable.

"That's what we're trying to work on now as the city continues its master planning process," Anderson said. "So if they do include arts and culture, which it seems like the public has said they're supportive of, we want to make sure that we're studying it and really coming up with the ideal type of facility for Boulder. We're looking to develop a facility that will be really active and busy and sustainable."

At a "preference" open house at Boulder High School tonight, Boulder residents can choose between a number of distinct options for the Civic Area, some of which include a performing arts center.

The city is working on a Civic Center Master Plan for the area along Boulder Creek, between Arapahoe Avenue and Canyon Boulevard and between Ninth and 17th streets. Planners will check in with the City Council on June 4 and come back with final recommendations for the plan in August or September.

Senior Urban Designer and Civic Area Project Manager Sam Assefa said the city is looking at a number of different factors, including public preference, economic feasibility and how well a performing arts center could be integrated with other potential uses.

One seemingly mundane but very important consideration is parking. The city wants to take most of the 674 parking spaces in several city lots along Arapahoe Avenue and move them into parking garages on the outskirts of the Civic Area.

Assefa said whatever uses the city recommends have to complement each other in terms of parking, perhaps with office workers using parking during weekdays and guests of a performing arts center using parking at nights and on weekends.

Other ideas, like a year-round market hall to accompany the Farmers' Market, a boutique hotel or mixed-use developments that would include housing, offices and retail, would have very different parking needs, Assefa said.

Robert McGowan, a professor of management at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, said ease of parking is important in creating a positive experience for theater-goers.

"If they have the parking, if people can walk to restaurants, if they can do a nice job staging events, it's doable," he said.

Elaine Schwenker, left, and Ken Campbell, members of the Viva Theater Group, rehearse a scene in the short play, "Christmas Breaks," at the Dairy
Elaine Schwenker, left, and Ken Campbell, members of the Viva Theater Group, rehearse a scene in the short play, "Christmas Breaks," at the Dairy Center for the Arts on Thursday. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

Boulder also needs to look closely at the types of events it wants to host in a new performing arts center and where else along the Front Range those events can go.

"They're bumping up against a lot of competition, so they have to decide what kind of events they're going to bring to differentiate themselves," he said.

A performing arts center showed up in many of the Civic Area designs submitted as part of an ideas competition. However, when CU and DU students engaged in a design competition specifically about what should go on 13th Street between Arapahoe and Canyon, none of the winning groups included the performing arts center.

Assefa said the city is looking at the analysis behind that decision by those student groups, as well as submissions that did include a performing arts center, as part of their overall examination of the issue.

Finding a place in already varied mix

Another important factor will be how well a performing arts center can be integrated with other uses.

"A structure that takes up that much space should not be empty most of the week," Assefa said. "We'd want a creative mix of uses or perhaps partnering with other entities to have a mix of arts uses within that envelope."

Bill Obermeier, executive director of the Dairy Center for the Arts, which has several smaller theaters, said his facility can host local and regional music, dance and theater companies, but it's unlikely to attract national touring acts. Touring is expensive, and companies seek out larger venues to recoup more of their expenses through more ticket sales.

Obermeier said he would see a new venue complementing the Dairy rather than competing with it.

"Between that facility and our facility, we would better serve the community," he said. "The more venues you have available, the more things you can do."

Joan McLean Braun, executive director of CU Presents, has served as an industry advisor on the performing arts center initiative and reviewed a request for proposals for the feasibility study. He said the group is asking the right questions about whether Boulder can support another venue.

"One of the things that is a key component is not just the initial costs, but the ongoing costs," she said. "You want it to be professional, and you have special staff and special equipment that needs to be maintained to ensure that the investment pays off."

For her part, Braun believes it can.

CU has the 500-seat Grusin Music Hall and 2,000-seat Macky Auditorium.

"That's quite a jump," Braun said. "When we're trying to ascertain what the appropriate audience would be, it's often somewhere between 500 and 2,000. It would just give us a lot more choices."

She also thinks a new performing arts center would complement the city's character.

"It's an investment in everything that makes Boulder unique and a wonderful," she said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or