Events center policies debated as project continues in downtown Rifle
Citizen Telegram Editor
RIFLE — “We’ll put the Wheeler out of business,” Rifle Mayor Randy Winkler said, tongue in cheek, after a recent city council workshop to discuss policies and procedures for the New Ute Events Center.
The downtown Rifle facility has undergone interior remodeling and upgrade work for most of the past year, with several planned opening dates delayed due to the age of the 1940s-era structure.
Winkler’s reference to the historic Aspen opera house came after a number of ideas were batted around about the types of events the center might accommodate.
The facility, as described in a proposed use policy, is a state-of-the-art theatre and events center that is hoped to increase business and tourism in Rifle and western Garfield County by offering a space to gather and produce diverse, affordable and quality cultural programming. The center includes amenities such as on-site sound and lighting equipment, stage and changing rooms, table or bleacher-style audience seating and a vendor area.
The city plans to rent the facility on a first-come, first-served basis to adults.
Alcohol policy presents issues
How to allow and regulate alcohol use in the facility presents challenges, said City Attorney Jim Neu.
“And the main one, of course, is liability,” he added.
Neu said the city could decide to require special event licenses for liquor, or event sponsors could bring their own.
Winkler said he wasn’t sure it would be a wise move for the city to “get into the liquor business.”
Councilman Dirk Myers said contractors hold a liquor license and the city could get a certain amount of the sales.
“You won’t make as much money” as selling liquor to event patrons, he said. “But you don’t have as many concerns, since it’s the contractor who’s liable.”
City Manager Matt Sturgeon said any alcohol would have to be sold in cans or bottles and served in plastic cups.
Sturgeon also said it wouldn’t make sense for the city to require a $1 million liability insurance policy for an event such as a private wedding reception.
“Now, if there’s a rock concert with alcohol, you might want more than $1 million,” he added.
Shelley Aibner with NUTS, the New Ute Theatre Society, said liability insurance costs are “ridiculous” and could end up preventing use of the facility.
NUTS President Helen Rogers said the group recently paid $800 for nonprofit liability insurance.
“So you never really make money on the event because the insurance costs so much,” Aibner added.
Events Center Coordinator Blair Bracken said she would like to hold a grand opening when the facility is ready to open, “but there’s no money in the budget for it right now.”
Rich Carter, the city’s construction manager on the project and a city councilman, said during a quick tour of the ongoing remodeling work that “unexpected things” came up during the work that required attention and delayed completion.
“It’s been the nature of the existing facility,” Carter said. “There’s no records of any [engineering or architect] drawings, so we have nothing to go by.”
However, Carter said the delays have not added to the expected $2 million cost of the project and the city has not had to dip into the project contingency fund for extra money.
“We’ve just been running into hiccups,” he added. “Things like old wiring and technologies we have to get rid of and replace with state-of-the-art things.”
PNCI Construction of Grand Junction is the general contractor on the project.
A new ventilation and heating system has been installed on the roof and leaks have been repaired.
“They’re getting down to finishing the stage, hanging dry wall and taping,” Carter noted. “Then it’s on the fun stuff.”
Carter said the current estimated opening is in March or April.
Workers are installing a dumb waiter to carry food from an upstairs warming kitchen to the front concessions area, Carter explained. However, the kitchen won’t be included in the work at this time and will depend on future funding.
While the design includes modern amenities such as LED lighting, it will also continue the 1940s-era design motif of the former Rifle Creek Theater, the building’s last use, Carter said. For instance, the buffalo on the wall above the front door will be redone by a muralist.
A large double door was added to the rear of the building to allow deliveries of oversized items like pianos, he added.
“And there was no insulation at all,” Carter noted. “Now, it has an R-40 rating in the roof and at least R-19 in the walls, so it should be a much more comfortable experience while you’re sitting here.”
Performers will have access to a green room, two dressing rooms below the stage and the floor of the theater where the audience will be seated will be stained concrete, Carter said.
Acoustical engineers have helped make sure the sound system and design of the stage and theater ensures good sound reproduction, he added.
A retractable movie screen will sit 30 feet from the back of the theater instead of the old screen’s seven feet, making for a more intimate viewing experience, Carter said.
“It will not only be a high-tech, state-of-the-art facility for Rifle, but really for the entire state of Colorado,” Carter said. “We think it will really be an amazing place to perform and to watch those performances.”
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Diane Mitsch Bush was defeated by incumbent Scott Tipton in 2018 for the 3rd Congressional District seat. Mitsch Bush is running again as the Democratic candidate but this time against Republican political newcomer Lauren Boebert.