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March 27, 2013
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City plans to cover event center costs

Initial operational costs for an events center in the former Ute Theatre in downtown Rifle would be the city's responsibility, under a proposal discussed at a March 20 City Council workshop with the New Ute Theatre Society.

The group has been leading efforts for an events center in the city-owned building on East Fourth Street. The 1940s-era building has been closed since August 2012.

City Manager John Hier said the city proposed to fund the operating costs of the events center, after looking elsewhere where other communities have similar facilities.

"We think the NUTS group should focus on raising funds through grants and help bring in shows that would be a good draw for the area," Hier said. "We realize NUTS doesn't have a budget to get this up and running."

On Monday, Hier said how much money would be needed for operational costs has yet to be determined, but an earlier estimate from the NUTS group was around $138,000 a year. Hier said the amount needed should decline after the first few years of operation and revenue gained from shows.

In September, Andy Knudsten of Economic and Planning Systems in Denver said his market and feasibility analysis of an events center in Rifle found similar centers had an annual operations and maintenance budget of around $84,000, and the average city subsidy was around 36 percent.

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

"No matter how big or small your center is, you still have things like payroll and taxes and that's where the city has the experience," Hier said at the workshop. "A volunteer group is not set up too well to do that."

NUTS President Helen Rogers said the group's board had discussed the city helping with operational costs, and agreed "it made a lot of sense."

At an earlier workshop on the events center, City Councilman Keith Lambert cautioned what an annual subsidy for operations could mean to the financially-strapped city budget.

"My biggest concern is establishing a cost center we would have to find a way to fund on an annual basis, and we're already deficit spending," he said then.

Hier said eight firms responded to an advertisement for qualified bidders to finish the $1.9 million interior remodeling of the building. Of those, six were invited to bid, he added.

Bids are expected within the next several weeks, Hier said, with City Council likely to be asked to approve a contract at their April 17 meeting.

Several grants have been lined up to help with construction costs, including $150,000 recently received from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Hier said.

Design and remodeling will be based on the historical appearance and items in the old theater, such as a handful of theater seats and six glass etchings, said Rogers and volunteer events coordinator Shelley Aibner.

"We want to try to be as historically correct as we can be," added Rogers.

Hier said the city is developing a job description for an events center manager and would like to have that person hired by the time the center opens, if not before.

Aibner added many acts book performances a year ahead, so that could be the first thing a center manager undertakes, before it opens.

Aibner said whoever holds the position "needs to have New Ute fever."

"I could also see the value of paying this person a good salary, because it's important to the city," Aibner added. "Maybe we get an interim person to get things rolling. They could start work today."

Hier said the events center is likely about eight months away from opening.

"I'd think you'd want to start small and take small steps," Hier added. "Things like weddings, receptions, dances and shows with area groups. Then you could work up to the larger shows."

NUTS board member Garrick Frontella agreed.

"If you open and are not able to put on a good show, the big acts won't come back," he said. "So I think it's a good idea to start small."


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 27, 2013 05:14PM Published Mar 27, 2013 05:12PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.