Funding to complete the renovation and remodeling of the New Ute Events Center in downtown Rifle seemed to "pass muster" at the Nov. 7 City Council meeting.No official vote was taken on a plan to transfer $714,000 in city funds from various departments to the project, since the council was not considering an appropriations ordinance, said City Attorney Jim Neu.That ordinance will be before the council on Dec. 5, when it considers the city's 2013 budget for final adoption, he added.But the informal "thumbs up" from five of the city's seven councilmembers - after Mayor Jay Miller asked if the proposal would "pass muster" - was met with applause from a packed room of events center supporters. Key to the efforts of the New Ute Theatre Society, or NUTS, a nonprofit group that would oversee the center, is to have at least five councilmembers approve the transfer of $226,000 from the city's capital reserve fund for the work. The city code requires such a "supermajority" of councilmembers to transfer money from the fund, Neu said.One councilmember, Rich Carter, left the council chambers before discussion began to avoid a conflict of interest and will not vote on the matter. Carter's architectural firm has done work for the NUTS group and would likely bid on future jobs, Neu said. Councilwoman Jennifer Sanborn was absent from the Nov. 7 meetingThe city plans to use $1.24 million from its capital reserve fund and federal mineral leasing funds, a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, $228,000 in other grants, $13,766 from the city visitor improvement fund, $10,000 from the Downtown Development Authority budget and $200,000 from the Rifle information center budget to finish the $1.9 million renovation and remodeling of the center.NUTS board members told the council they plan to use a recent $35,000 private donation, annual $10,000 contributions from both the city's visitor information fund and Rifle information center, and eventually hold an average of 204 events a year that would generate ticket revenue to help cover operations and maintenance costs. A consultant recently said similar events centers in Colorado require a subsidy of around $300,000 a year to stay open.NUTS secretary Garrick Frontella said other funding sources include rentals and an audience base predicted to grow over the years, along with membership dues.Vice president Todd Seiber said the center would initially schedule 65 events in its first year, so the O&M cost would be about 33 percent lower than the consultants' estimate.Miller wondered if the center would have a harder time raising revenue, since it would be smaller than others and seat fewer people."Some acts we've been in contact with don't want to book the larger venues, so they will come here," Seiber answered.Garfield School District Re-2 would likely be a strong supporter of the center, President Helen Rogers noted, since the high school auditorium is a poor place for school plays and other student performances.Frontella said retractable seating will be an integral part of the center's success, even though it will not be included in the initial remodeling work."That would definitely open up a variety of options and uses for all kinds of rentals and acts," he added.Gary Miller, owner of Miller's Dry Goods in Rifle, said an events center would add an important attraction to the city, along with the Centennial Parks summer concerts, street dances, quality parks and even the Walmart store.Alan Burnham, an official with the American Shale Oil research project, announced that his company will make a $10,000 donation to the NUTS group."It's a recruiting issue for us," Burnham said. "We'd like to see Rifle be an attractive place for our employees to live from both a safety issue with shorter commutes and just a variety of things for them to do in their off hours."Rifle resident and artist Kathy Roselli asked council what affect the use of city funds to finish the Ute project would have on any future ballot questions to fund a recreation center.Councilman Keith Lambert said the two projects are separate issues. To date, the recreation center plan has been handled by the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp., with no city funds or involvement."I would hope a potential funding method for a recreation center would involve a bond issue to build it, then that it would generate enough money through use fees and parks and recreation money to cover its operations and maintenance costs," he stated. "We've cobbled enough together to help pay for an asset to the city in the events center remodeling. In my mind, that has nothing to do with a recreation center."Economic Development Corp. President Michael Langhorne said the events center fits into his group's downtown design plan, will bring increased sales tax revenue and help revitalize downtown."We might have to compromise on some of these plans, but we don't see the recreation center and the Ute competing for money," Langhorne said. "But I'd say after the results of the water plant vote [passage of a three-quarters of a cent sales tax hike], we might have a limited ability to get a sales tax for a recreation center. So it might have to be a more community-oriented tax with several projects."A recommendation on how to proceed with a recreation center is to be presented to the city council in January, Langhorne added.Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, a Rifle resident, said he was "throwing in" with the NUTS group."This is such a nostalgic part, Americana if you can, of Rifle," he said. "It would be a great blessing to see this go forward and really something of a historical monument to many of us in Rifle."Lambert likened the project to that of the former Midland Hotel on East Third Street, another historic building that was renovated in recent years.Scott Aibner of Rifle said the city already has great attractions, "but not a soul.""If you stand under the lights at night on Fourth Street and look up at the Ute with that beautiful facade, you'll feel the soul," he said. "I hope you choose to instill and propagate the human spirit in Rifle."Councilman Alan Lambert noted the large turnout and strong support behind the project "was just what we had in mind when we bought the building. This is what will make it happen."
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