Proposed Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center shifts gears to expand mission

Board has been “wowed” by initial design

It started as an idea to construct a major performing arts center in the upper valley that would be anchored by the Crested Butte Music Festival. It has since evolved into a centerpiece for Mt. Crested Butte that will draw not just top-name performers and concerts but also conferences, weddings and conventions.



Now going under the name of the Biery-Witt Center, the facility is planned to be constructed just north of the Grand Lodge and the new Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) parking garage off of Gothic Road.
“In early January the MCBPAC [Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center] board of directors determined to build a facility that would seat 500 people to meet the requirements of bringing in big name entertainers,” explained MCBPAC board president Tom Seymour. “That much seating will also be a draw for conventions and would have myriad year-round uses. We moved to this direction because we know the local economy needs this boost. The Biery-Witt Center will bring millions of ‘outside’ dollars to the local economy through conferences, symposia, film festivals, wedding receptions, as well as conventions and big name entertainment. The decision for the refocus came about simply as the result of thoughtful consideration of what the local economy needs, which is well beyond the needs or wants of the arts community.”
Mt. Crested Butte town manager and MCBPAC board member Joe Fitzpatrick agreed. “After the latest update to our feasibility study it was clear that the building had to have a flexible design to serve more users than just musical performances and thus the reality of the need for a great performing arts center and an events center came to be,” he said. “The design will still be an acoustically tunable performance hall and much more.”
The 500-seat performing arts center with a world-class stage will feature the view of the mountain. The configuration will allow the seats to be shifted and moved to turn the performance hall into a conference center that accommodates one large auditorium or several small convention spaces. Rehearsal and a catering kitchen space will be a part of the venue. A wedding hall aspect is expected to be a big draw.
Architects from around the country bid to design the facility. “We had submissions from more than 20 design teams, instructing them what our needs were,” said Seymour. “From these proposals, we selected Studio Red Architects of Houston. Studio Red has on their team Gary Hartman from the local Sunlit Architecture here in Crested Butte. They also have a team of outstanding theater and acoustic consultants.”
Seymour said the initial design blew the board away—it’s centered on a giant glass window view of Crested Butte Mountain. “The design team’s efforts exceeded our wildest expectations in two respects,” exclaimed Seymour. “First, the ingenious idea of having 2,000 square feet of glass as the wall behind the stage, with an unobstructed view of Mt. Crested Butte. Every seat in the house will have a view of the Butte. Second, the brilliant idea of telescoping out of sight the 350 seats on the main level and being able to replace those seats with a 6,000-square-foot floor level with the stage. That flat floor will allow for a seated dinner of up to 500 people, conference seating on non-theater chairs for more than 500, and a host of other uses. These elements just wowed the board.”
“Everybody who has seen the renderings and the schematic designs produced to date has been wowed, as well,” continued Seymour. “When you show a group of people the view of the Butte out the glass at the back of the stage, you get gasps, hoorays, and applause. This positive reaction then swells when people realize that this facility primarily benefits the local community and its economy, not just the performing arts. You could say we have gone from something for the performing arts to something for the ‘art of community living at its finest.’ It has evolved tremendously and is now more community oriented than first envisioned.”
Fitzpatrick sees the day that everyone from brides to high school seniors and scientists will use the facility. “The flexible interior design will give us the opportunity to attract conference/convention business, which in turn will provide an economic boost to Mt. Crested Butte businesses as well as generate sales tax revenue. The building will also provide Western State Colorado University with a place to hold events and classes,” he said. “It will also provide Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory with a facility to hold events and conferences. Additionally it will provide the Crested Butte Community School with a great place to hold graduation ceremonies in the spring. The center will work for weddings and receptions. With the orientation of the stage and 2,000-square-foot window facing Mt. Crested Butte’s peak, the center will be one of a kind in the world.”
The cost of the project is expected to exceed $20 million. At the start of the year the project had pledges, cash and donated land totaling $17 million. As of June 30, the MCBPAC was at $17.9 million. Seymour said the goal this summer was to raise another $2.5 million. “Now we are more than $300,000 into the summer goal, with several promising matters in the works,” he said.
“The Biery-Witt Center, like a lot of projects, plans to borrow money to get the facility built and open by July 1, 2017,” said Seymour. “That means paying interest while the pledges come in. So, we would be grateful if as many pledges as possible were turned into cash by February 1, 2015.”
“The goal is to continue with the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Grant application process which, if we are successful, would help us be able to break ground in summer of 2015,” said Fitzpatrick. “Other forms of financing are being researched.”
Fitzpatrick anticipates that it will take multiple years to build up a conference following. “However once it begins to move forward the word will spread since our two communities have so much to offer visitors. Excellent air service is also a major part of developing the conference business. But there are also many conferences that are within a one-day’s drive of our communities.
“This new facility will be a positive addition to our valley and an economic driver,” Fitzpatrick continued. “Additionally it will stimulate additional development in the Mt. Crested Butte Base area. The 500-seat auditorium will be an excellent place for a keynote address, for example, and will become a part of all other meeting/breakout spaces that currently exist in our community.”
Seymour said the emphasis of the project now is one that would benefit the entire valley. “We want to emphasize as loudly as we can that the primary mission of the Biery-Witt Center is to improve the local economy by bringing in millions of outside dollars to businesses and restaurants,” he said. “This makes us the biggest economic game changer in more than 30 years. The rising economic tide of our project floats all boats—businesses, restaurants, sales taxes, and property values. In sum, our project is motherhood and apple pie for the entire community.”

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