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CB council asked to expand Big Mine Ice Arena capacity

1,000 people for stand-up?

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council is split on whether to even discuss allowing Big Mine Ice Arena to accommodate major events that could hold up to 1,000 people. Currently the Crested Butte venue permits up to 499 people under certain circumstances but a proposal for a major comedy festival brought the expansion idea to the forefront at the council meeting on July 24.

Only six council members were present and three wanted to pursue discussion, while three felt the impacts were so great it would be a waste of time. Councilman Jackson Petito was not at the meeting so his decision on whether to consider the option will guide future discussion. The topic will be brought up again at the next meeting on August 8.

Councilman Jim Schmidt attended a briefing on the proposed comedy festival a couple of weeks ago. He said a group with deep entertainment roots and knowledge of Crested Butte were hoping to revive the old Aspen Comedy Festival that ended about seven years ago.

The idea is to start with a four-day event next June and sell it to a major television network such as Showtime or HBO. Venues all over the valley would be used, from the IBar Ranch in Gunnison to locations in Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and perhaps even Gothic.

Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald said the organizers had asked the town if Big Mine Ice Arena could be utilized to stage a show that would allow 1,000 people in the audience.

“I would say what it would do more than anything is give us more publicity,” said Schmidt. “This new group is exploring the idea.”

“The festival would not come under a special event permit,” explained MacDonald. “But they want to maximize the Big Mine Ice Arena venue. TV is where they probably make their money but they need someplace that seats 1,000 people and they identified Big Mine.”

That location has served hundreds of people in the past for weddings, music festival events and things like this Thursday’s March Fourth Marching Band concert. But the legal limit is 499 people. The last time 1,000 people were in the arena was probably for the Whatever Bud Light event.

“Big Mine is not designed as an entertainment venue,” said MacDonald. “The fire district has limitations for the space. It can do it but there are challenges. It would open the door to similar events in the future. We are looking for direction from the council.”

“One thing that came up last time was that if we were to allow such things, the rink would need a sprinkler system installed,” said councilman Roland Mason. “We would have to have that discussion again.”

“It is a solvable problem. The question is, does the council want that to become a big venue opportunity?” asked MacDonald. “If there is no interest, then there isn’t a need to put it on an agenda for discussion.”

“With the Biery-Witt Center not happening, where will big events happen up here?” asked Mason.

“We keep hearing people say we need to stop advertising, especially in the summer,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “This would be big exposure.”

“I have no idea how they would promote it,” said Schmidt.

“The I-Bar in Gunnison has that capacity, so what would be our motivation to create a 1,000-person venue in downtown Crested Butte?” asked councilman Chris Ladoulis.

“We do need to be cognizant of our carrying capacity,” said mayor Glenn Michel.

“I’m not interested in putting it on the agenda,” said councilman Chris Ladoulis. “Are there council people who are?”

“I would like to have the conversation,” said Mason.

“I would, too,” said Schmidt.

“Having a thousand people in Big Mine would be problematic,” said Michel. “There isn’t the parking. The neighborhood impacts would be big. I’m with Chris.”

“Is it worth a conversation? I’m with Roland and Jim,” said councilman Paul Merck.

Mitchell sided with Ladoulis.

“Is anyone from town asking for this?” asked Ladoulis.

MacDonald said there had been local requests to increase the capacity limits at the site.

“This seems to be to be another reaction to an applicant,” said Ladoulis. “It’s not something the council has on its future list to consider. To me it sounds crazy to entertain this. Unless there is some other motivation, I don’t see it. If it is so important, then why is it just coming up now?”

“It has been talked about before,” responded Schmidt.

“Is it not part of the other conversations we have had tonight? We talked about how we are running out of space for things like wastewater treatment and bus storage. We don’t have enough places for workers. Where will the employees who work there live? Traffic is out of hand and we are talking about the need for lighted crosswalks because of the amount of people here now,” said Ladulis.

“I’m not sure if the comedy thing is a great event or not but I’m for having the discussion,” said Merck.

“We might as well have the conversation now since it is the only place with the potential to hold that many people,” said Mason. “I think it is worth talking about to set the boundaries.”

No council member changed their mind on Monday so they agreed to hold the discussion on whether to hold a formal discussion at the August 8 meeting when the seventh councilmember, Jackson Petito, can weigh in on the subject.

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