Mike McKibbin

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September 19, 2012
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Events center could work in Rifle

The New Ute Events Center in Rifle likely would be feasible, if it was subsidized by the city or another source, but more than $2 million is needed to complete remodeling of the former movie theater and reopen it to the public.

That's what two consultants told Rifle City Council and members of the New Ute Theatre Society, or NUTS, on Sept. 12. NUTS is a volunteer group overseeing the project.

The 1940s building has had asbestos removed and the exterior given a make over, but the interior will need substantial improvements to bring it up to building and electrical codes, said Phil Vaughan of Vaughan Construction Management of Rifle.

"It's just a total demolition and remodel project inside," he explained. "The masonry has issues, there's some major roofing improvements to do to support the two HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] units that will go on the roof. Then there's new drywall, paint, flooring and you want to replicate the murals that were inside, too."

Vaughan presented a lengthy, itemized cost breakdown list on the needed improvements, plus a 10 percent contingency he said is common on large remodeling jobs such as the Ute.

"Especially with this building's age," Vaughan added. "We always find things we didn't plan for when we go into these types of projects."

Vaughan's firm will not be allowed to bid on the project, he noted, since he compiled the detailed costs and would have an unfair advantage over other similar firms.

A phased approach to the remodeling was not recommended by Vaughan.

"You've got to have some pretty large holes in the walls to get the equipment in and out," he said. "You can't use ladders due to the design of the building, without risking the safety of your workers. So I'm recommending you go in and hit this baby hard and get it done at once. I know the money is a hurdle."

Recycling the building materials removed would likely not reduce the cost much, either, Vaughan said. Current building materials would be far superior due to the Ute's age, he noted.

"You might be able to recycle a few things like conduits, but I see some scary wiring in there right now and that all must come out," Vaughan added.

Once work began, Vaughan estimated it could be completed in around six months.

"I really feel these are responsible numbers and I'm not giving you pie-in-the-sky figures," he said.

Mayor Jay Miller said if NUTS expects the city to fund most of the project, "You're going to be waiting a while. I think we're going to have to beat the bushes for grants and donations."

Governmental Affairs Coordinator Mike Braaten said the city had designated $306,000 to the project this year, plus several grants, for a total of $618,000 available. However, some of the grants will sunset at the end of the year, he noted, if the city does not act by that time.

"And I'd say we would not be likely to get those back," Braaten added.

Meanwhile, Andy Knudsten of Economic and Planning Systems in Denver told the group his market and feasibility analysis of an events center in Rifle found most similar centers needed some sort of funding help to remain open.

He looked at the Avalon Theatre in Grand Junction, the Durango Arts Center, Rialto Theater Center in Loveland, the Silverthorne Pavilion, and the Steam Plant Events Center in Salida. Knudsten said four of them are owned and operated by a public entity, the other by a nonprofit group.

"On the average, you probably need around $84,000 a year to operate, and the average city subsidy we found was around 36 percent," Knudsten said.

With start up costs, he said Rifle would likely need around $164,000 for staffing and operations.

"Some of the main things we found is you need a liquor license or a bar and kitchen, flexible seating and a flat floor for banquets," he added.

Revenue at these venues comes mainly from rentals, ticket sales, food and beverage and memberships and donations, Knudsten said.

"Not everyone of them charges for tickets, but we'd recommend you do that at the Ute," he added.

One part time staff member would likely be enough to oversee events initially, Knudsten. If a center annually reaches an average of 40 events, he said more personnel would likely be needed to be hired.

"A multi-functional facility is a key, too," Knudsten said. "For performances, there's really nothing available in western Garfield County. So we feel the competitive position for Rifle would be strong."

Economic benefits would include people who travel to Rifle for an event, then eat meals at restaurants and stay overnight in hotels and motels, he added.

Promotional tie ins, such as movie tickets for every events ticket sold, can spur that kind of benefit, Knudsten added.

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The Post Independent Updated Sep 19, 2012 05:45PM Published Sep 19, 2012 05:29PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.