CB Council gives final green light to new Center

Center for Arts fence to go upMonday beginning construction on ‘Big Blue’

By Mark Reaman

Acknowledging that they were taking a leap of faith, the Crested Butte Town Council voted 4-1 Monday to allow the Center for the Arts to begin its expansion project with an official groundbreaking next month. Site preparation work will begin sooner with the construction fence slated to be erected Monday.

While the Center board of directors does not yet have the total money or pledges in hand to complete the $15 million expansion project, they are confident that the funds will be raised soon. The start of construction is expected to spur excitement and keep momentum rolling.

Center board president Ed Schmidt said that once ground is broken, pledges should be collected to fill their coffers to the tune of $7.3 million. A portion of that is in the form of a $2 million letter of credit that needs to be repaid. So-called reserved pledges are lined up to be paid at project benchmarks such as the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting. Thus far, Schmidt said, $11.3 million has been pledged to the project and $600,000 is in the bank. The goal is to raise another $4 million this summer.

“The board’s comfort level to achieve the $15.3 million campaign goal is very high,” Schmidt told the council at the May 15 meeting. “We expect to raise $4 million this summer and reach the $15.3 million by the end of Phase 1. While nationally, campaign pledges come in at at least 95 percent, the Center has always collected 100 percent.”

Phase 1 would essentially entail constructing the new building to the north of the current Center facility. The expansion will result in a campus with approximately 38,000 square feet of building space and will provide a slightly larger but more flexible theater space, studios, galleries and exhibition spaces, constructed with lots of glass and primarily blue-tinted siding.

The hope is to begin the major construction project quickly with site preparation, tree removal, playground deconstruction and fencing. Ideally it will take 16 months to complete the first phase of the project.

While the Center board had hoped to provide standard liquid “surety” to the town as part of the project, it was not able to achieve that. A commercial project would normally have to provide something like a letter of credit worth 120 percent of the estimated project costs in case it was needed to complete a project that went into default for some reason. This project is headed by a non-profit organization on a building and property owned by the town, so that did not happen.

The Center has worked with the town to provide several elements of financial protection. A construction account will be set up that the town will be able to review. In case of a default, the town would be able to draw on remaining funds in the construction account to complete the project. Once ground is broken, any donation to the Center will go into that construction account.

“To be clear, the funding for construction of Phase 1 is not entirely in place and there will be no surety beyond the funds in the construction account and outstanding pledges unless the Center is able to raise additional money and meet or exceed their fundraising goals,” a memo to the council from town manager Dara MacDonald stated.

A room full of supporters urged the council to “take a leap of faith” with the project.

“We are doing the right thing with the Creative District and the Center is the anchor of that district,” said Melissa Mason, who chairs the district and works for the Center. “Other communities have gone out on a limb and been successful with such projects.  Look at what is happening across the state. This building can be a make or break addition to the town. It will be world-class. I know the council is taking a leap of faith but donors will follow you. You are the leaders.”

“I have been involved with fundraising campaigns for years and we can see the end of this campaign,” said resident and Center board member Don Haver. “In my experience, it is when you break ground that you start getting the money.”

“I highly believe in the need for the facility,” commented resident Andrew Hadley, an architect on the project. “I understand you are putting a lot of faith to get the money but Ed makes a great case. Once ground is broken it will generate excitement. If you delay and the momentum doesn’t keep going, there is a risk of the project deteriorating in a small town. As for construction, here in Crested Butte you pretty much get one chance to hit a good start date. The window is here to begin immediately.”

“We need the Center desperately,” said artist Mary Tuck. “There are no big spaces to create in Crested Butte. I hate to see the time element slip by. You need to have faith that the money from donors will come.”

Resident David Rothman said he understood the council was being asked to take a risk. “And there is some risk but the council is being asked to lead. And the risk is warranted, given the leadership of the Center’s board and administration. Plus, art is a great part of the economy for the council to embrace. It is year-round, low-impact, community-based. It creates good jobs. Now is the time to provide leadership. I encourage you to take the leap of faith.”

“These guys have done a phenomenal job of raising money,” added new resident Steve Gibbs. “The Center for the Arts is the community center. The money will come. It just needs your backing.”

John O’Neal said a vote to allow the Center was a vote for the community. “It is for us and our children. Vote for the richness of life here,” he said.

Mayor Glenn Michel said it was the responsibility of the council to ask and consider the hard questions. “There is a need for the facility and lots of support for the Center within the community,” he said. “For the council, we don’t have surety for the project. We’ve heard a lot tonight about risk and faith. But we have to protect all the citizens of the town in a worst-case scenario. “

“For me it is a leap of faith into the known,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “I feel strongly about the project and am impressed with the pledges. There are competing interests on the mountain and I like this vision. I want to see it happen.”

“We can hear about faith but government likes certainty,” said Michel. “Not having all the money is a tough way forward for government.”

“I honestly have a stomach ache thinking about putting the town on the line for $4 million,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “Can we put it off one more year until the money is there? It doesn’t sit well with me. It feels like we are putting this on a credit card and we don’t have the surety.”

Construction manager Crocket Farnell said in the worst-case scenario based on no more pledges being made, but the current ones being collected, the building would be completed and finished to a standard where it could be used. “The playground would be done. The landscaping put in. It wouldn’t have theater fixtures but would have drywall and paint and could be used by the town as a functioning building,” he said.

“In the worst-case scenario the town would get another building as another asset,” said Jim Schmidt. “We won’t be asking taxpayers for $4 million.”

“This campaign is based on who we are and where we live,” said Ed Schmidt. “It is about the community.”

The council voted 4-1 to proceed, with Mitchell voting no. Roland Mason recused himself from the discussion since his wife, Melissa, works for the Center. Councilman Chris Ladoulis was not at the meeting.

The council also passed a motion waiving the need to put the project out to bid and approving a tenant improvement agreement. Activity in the Town Park preparing to build Big Blue (nicknamed by me) will begin Monday, so if you want one last swing on the Mary Yelenick playground—get over there.

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