Rifle turns out in big numbers to see Ute Theatre’s latest renovations
The Ute Theatre reached capacity within minutes of reopening its doors Friday as the organizations and individuals that helped make the historic theater’s redesign a reality got to see firsthand their hard work come to fruition. By the time performances started, anyone without a seat had to either wait outside or in the lobby as the theater’s new retractable seating had only so many spots.
“I’ve been involved with the renovation since day one, and I just think it’s fantastic,” said Gill Frontella, former president and current member of the New Ute Theatre Society — NUTS. “It really matches what it looked like in the beginning and came out as we envisioned, paying homage to the original design and look.”
Frontella first set foot in the Ute in 1974 and has been instrumental in seeing the historic theater preserved and even improved.
“The Ute initially was a typical small town neighborhood theater, but now we have a state-of-the-art center that can accommodate anything and everything,” he added.
The theater had been closed since the beginning of 2017 in order to redesign its interior and install retractable seating that can seat nearly 200 people. Frontella said that while the redesign was meant to modernize and upgrade the look of the Ute, NUTS and current president Helen Rogers always intended to pay homage to its original design.
Built in 1947, the Ute, which was also renovated in 2014 and won a state award, now includes new lighting, retractable seating, a concession stand and a fresh look inside and out.
“I have nothing but praise for the outcome,” Frontella said. “Helen did a great job basing the look on the former interior. The missing link was the seating, which will be a real asset to the community.”
Former Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert was also in attendance at the grand reopening last Friday and had nothing but praise for the finished product.
“I was the mayor when the facility was purchased by the city, and the idea was to create a downtown facility to draw people to,” he explained. “This new addition, especially with the adjustable seating is the cherry on top of a wonderful endeavor.”
Lambert was Rifle’s mayor from 2001 to 2011 and has been involved in the redesign effort since the very beginning. He has seen the redesign since the day it was held as a private theatre to when the city purchased the Ute in 2006 to its complete redesign, which was on display Friday.
“On a personal note, it’s something I always appreciated, to see touring and local talent come through Rifle,” he added.
The Ute holds venues for dance, theater, piano, small jazz bands, lectures and more, but of all the new improvements to the theatre, the retractable seating should yield the biggest return.
“It will really add flexibility,” Rogers said. “The facility is designed to be flexible, and that is something we really wanted to be able to take advantage of.”
The retractable seating cost $122,040 to install, well short of the $148,000 estimate, with donations from Community Newspaper, Clough Family Foundation, El Pomar Foundation, individual members of the community and more.
The cost of the reconstruction project came in at around $2 million, with a majority of the money coming from grants, funds and donations from individuals and organizations.
Tom Stuver, who along with Frontella and Rogers originally formed NUTS, now spends most of his time in California, but comes back to Rifle every month and by happy coincidence got to see the grand re-opening on Friday. Still a resident of Rifle, Stuver resigned from Rifle’s Downtown Developmental Authority in December after having been on it since 1982 yet he still enjoys coming back to see all the improvements made to his town.
“Helen did the design work on the exterior and interior, and I think it just looks terrific,” he exclaimed. “She used all the historic motifs and gives it a historic look, but somehow still modernized it.”
He and his wife Elizabeth were both on the Ute board for years and plan to catch a show at the redesigned theatre whenever they are in town.
The grand re-opening included a $5 suggested donation for anyone who attended, and Rogers estimated that the theatre raised about $1,600 for the facility.
She said that all she had to base the historic look of the theatre on was old black and white photos, yet it is clear from the praise from those that have been involved with the theater for decades that it certainly pays homage to the original design.
NUTS hopes that the interior renovation will greatly expand the types of performances that can be booked at the Ute, and already performers have been scheduled for 2017. Sam Bush will be coming to Rifle on Feb. 23; the Young Dubliners will be returning on March 9; bluesman Coco Montoya will be there March 25; and on March 4, the Ute will host the second annual Hoot at the Ute with benefits going to the Rifle Animal Shelter.
For more information, visit utetheater.com to see updated schedules and upcoming events.
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