$150,000 added to New Ute Events Center
Citizen Telegram Editor
Nearly $150,000 in city revenue was added to the cost of finishing the remodeling of the former Ute Theatre so it can open as the New Ute Events Center, and a general contractor was hired to oversee the work, at the May 1 Rifle City Council meeting.
The 1940s-era building has been closed since August 2012. The city acquired it and agreed to let the New Ute Theatre Society, or NUTS, nonprofit group promote plans to reopen it as an events center.
Last year, City Council appropriated $1.9 million from the capital fund for the project. However, anticipated grant revenue came in $65,000 short of the city’s expected amount of $428,000, said Assistant City Manager Matt Sturgeon at a public workshop prior to the meeting and in a memo to the council.
Total project cost, excluding the retractable seating (estimated to cost nearly $156,000), will not exceed slightly more than $2 million, Sturgeon wrote. However, that’s more than $83,000 over what was appropriated within the capital fund, he noted.
Council agreed 6-0, with Councilman Rich Carter abstaining due to his architectural work on the project, to cover the potential shortfall from the capital fund. Sturgeon added the extra funds may not be spent, depending on how the remodeling process takes place.
Sturgeon said five of the six prequalified construction firms submitted bids. Council voted 6-0, again with Carter abstaining, to award the project to PNCI Construction of Grand Junction for just under $1.7 million, excluding the retractable seating. Sturgeon said the contract calls for the remodeling to be finished in 110 working days.
Council also authorized City Manager John Hier to sign a $25,000 grant from the Boettcher Foundation for the project.
New cost center debated
Much discussion centered on the city paying for annual operations and maintenance of the event center. Sturgeon said the city should anticipate spending between $25,000 to $30,000 for that purpose. No formal action was taken on the issue.
Councilman Keith Lambert said the addition of an ongoing cost “gives me the most heartburn. We’re talking about an ongoing expense in a budget that’s already squeaky. That causes me some concern.”
Mayor Jay Miller noted city sales tax revenues are lagging and the new water treatment plant project has been delayed by state health officials reviewing the plans for the project.
“I’m just not sure we should be spending that money right now,” he added.
NUTS President Helen Rogers said the premise behind the events center has always been that it would be an economic driver for the downtown area.
“We think it’s going to be a win-win,” she added. “Sometimes you just have to jump in.”
Councilman Randy Winkler said the city stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money for the project if there are delays.
Rogers said it that happens, the likelihood of getting new grants from the same sources was not good. Sturgeon agreed.
Carter said the city can discuss ways to reduce the cost of the project with the general contractor.
“There’s always a way to skin that cat,” he said.
In answer to Councilwoman Jennifer Sanborn’s question about what steps would be needed if the events center becomes a “black hole” of revenue, City Attorney Jim Neu said the city would likely close it and maintain basic utilities to protect the structure.
NUTS member Gil Frontella said Rifle and its residents have survived many economic downturns.
“Approaching this from a doomsday view won’t accomplish what we need,” he said.
Sanborn said she wasn’t thinking about shutting the project down now, “but the extra money does not make me happy. And I hear the criticisms on how other community and events center depend on subsidies to operate.”
Lambert said the approximate $148,000 extra to finish the remodeling was “certainly doable, but a $30,000 to $90,000 annual shortfall is questionable.”
“I don’t think it will ever be self-sufficient,” he continued. “So it will be an ongoing year-to-year budget discussion and there will be new council members who may take a different look at this. So it’s going to be up to the NUTS group to keep this going.” Councilman Jonathan Rice compared the funding issue with the events center to that of the swimming pool at Metro Park.
“There’s really a small percentage of people who use the pool and the fees have never covered the costs,” he said. “But we’ve never discussed closing it. The question is, is a small part of the community that would use an events center worth it?”
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Motorists and passersby could see a refreshed gateway to Rifle along Interstate 70 in the future.