Learn arts center operating costs before building

Carbondale residents are being surveyed on, among other ideas, whether the town should pursue building a performing arts center.

It’s an exciting concept, and town officials will benefit from knowing how residents feel about the idea.

But there’s more to the question than meets the eye.

Performing arts centers cost a bundle to build, and another bundle to operate. The only ways to offset ongoing costs are by hosting frequent and profitable shows, and by getting a subsidy from the town government or some other benefactor.

Look no further than Beaver Creek or Aspen ” resort communities with lots more action than Carbondale ” for the evidence.

The Vilar Center in Beaver Creek is booked with paying events about 185 nights a year, and hosts another 30 discount shows for local youth performers. Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House hosts from 430 to 560 events a year, including performances, movies, meetings, receptions and rehearsals, and 90 percent are subsidized.

That doesn’t mean the dream can’t come true for Carbondale.

The town is home to a vibrant arts community, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t have a top-quality performance venue.

There are two ways to accomplish that goal:

– Size the facility to match Carbondale. A cavernous concert hall will not reflect the character of Carbondale, but an intimate theater would.

– Work in harmony with the Roaring Fork School District, which plans to build a new high school on the North Face property. A good high school needs an auditorium, and a shared facility could give the town and the school district a chance to build a quality facility that neither could afford on their own.

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