Monday, September 24, 2018
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Messages, questions and character

It seems most people understand there is a real need to give the Crested Butte Center for the Arts a facelift or even a total makeover. Turning the old county shop into a place for high-caliber music, plays, dance, film and community programs has proven enormously successful over 30 years. The center has become the community’s entertainment patio and gathering place.
It is also a big part of the first impression as we and our guests enter this small mountain town. Surrounded by an active park and sitting just north of the community school and Stepping Stones, the center helps send a strong message: We value outdoor recreation, kids and art. That’s a pretty fine message.

And after close to 30 years, it is time for an upgrade. Operating out of an old garage has been challenging. I’ve sat in there several times this winter and felt the few cold breezes we’ve experienced this season. Art is booming here and providing opportunity is a good thing. It is time for a bigger, better facility. The center’s board of directors is moving in that direction with the hope of putting a formal plan into the BOZAR pipeline as early as this summer. A quiet pledge campaign is under way to fund a new building and bring the facility into the 21st century.

So I’m looking at a map given to the Crested Butte Town Council that would shift the Center for the Arts north of its present location and move a softball field to a soccer field, and a high school soccer field to a lawn space used for Alpenglow and little kids’ soccer.
The center’s board gave this to the council two weeks ago and hopes to get a formal resolution of support this coming Monday. The proposed changes are not small. Moving Pitsker Field to Rainbow seems to have nicked the sensibilities of some who honor the history of that field. It is a great place to play softball on a summer’s evening but moving it isn’t the end of the world. I do like seeing the Little League kids out there every day all summer—that conveys a sincere message full of small town character.
What would be the new high school soccer field doesn’t have actual dimensions on the map but it looks to pretty much touch the highway in the southwest corner. The initial dimensions, I’ve been told, may be too small and do not make it a significant upgrade from the current Rainbow Field for high school matches.
The current building is about 6,000 square feet. The new building gets bigger with each incarnation and is now at a projected 30,000 square feet-plus. That’s not just a tad bigger. Now, given that it is an arts center, I think we can all be confident it will be designed to look good and not be overly massive. But I’m sensitive to scale in our small town. Our size and scale distinguish us from other mountain resorts. With the Anthracite Place affordable housing complex coming to Sixth and Belleview, there will be two big buildings at the entrance to town. They are both good amenities, but they will change the tenor of the vibe. That gives me pause. Going bigger doesn’t add more character to the community. It can actually diminish our distinctiveness.
The performance space goes from 215 permanent seats to 260. Is that enough or too much? Not sure, but it is worth a discussion.
I love the idea of outdoor art in the “building zone” and green spaces. But proposed parking doesn’t appear realistic, with more than 78 head-in spaces designed for Seventh Street. That’s a major impact on that neighborhood and, given a normal winter, I can’t believe there will be that many spaces when it snows. The school parking lot is proposed as overflow, but it isn’t used much now. Why will it suddenly be the go-to lot? There is opportunity nearby, but the vacant lot across the highway might be pricy but worth it in the long run.
Add the nebulousness of who pays for the million dollars or more in park changes and the “concept” has some significant unknowns and legitimate issues that should be addressed before any sort of formal approval by the council.

Now, technically, a town resolution makes Town Council opinion clear and conveys support of (or opposition to) a concept. It is not a law, nor does it carry the steel of a town ordinance. But it certainly conveys the message of some guarantees. The town attorney says a resolution makes clear what action the Town Council wants done and why. The mayor says that while non-binding, the resolution is an indicator of adopted town policy. I get the feeling at least some on the center’s board are taking resolutions approved by this and previous councils as gospel, and that may result in tension as general public input gets more active.
The town staff has made it clear that BOZAR will review the details of the Center for the Arts expansion and they have confidence that board will rein in any excess. Given the magnitude and visibility of this proposal, the council should not be afraid to guide the expansion process at appropriate times. It is fair for individual councilmen to comment and support or oppose the proposal in whole or in part. The town does own the building, after all.

This proposal coming to the council Monday may or may not be great but there should be some discomfort with a piecemeal approval of a general location concept that has major ripple effects throughout town. There are real issues involved with the proposal. Scale, parking, change of park use, what happens to the trees lining the sidewalk north of the current center parking lot, and money, to name a few.
The communication between the center and the town has been good and that is commendable. Presenting a general concept like this is valuable and will no doubt lead to productive (and sometimes heated) dialogue. However, I think it is a stretch to say the town is ready to pass a formal resolution of support for all aspects of this proposal that impacts the entire community, whether it is ultimately binding or not.
While there are always some who never want an iota of change, generally, this community is not opposed to progress. And an expanded and renovated Community Center for the Arts is good progress. But this community expects a broad, thoughtful discussion over any major changes. If something feels rushed, or people feel excluded, even the best plan can get derailed. Right now, this resolution feels a bit rushed. Supporting a stronger facility for the arts at the entrance to our community sends a good message. Let’s make sure we take the needed time to answer the questions and address the issues before approving a plan. That too sends a good message.

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