Mt. Crested Butte’s Biery-Witt Center disbanding

Frees up money for other projects

by Mark Reaman

A major project for Mt. Crested Butte that has been on the table for years is being dissolved. The Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center (MCBPAC) will not happen.

According to a press release issued June 16, the board of directors voted this month to terminate the project for the construction of the Biery-Witt Center and formulate a “‘windup plan’ for the MCBPAC.”

Board co-president Bill Ronai said Monday the move was “a fiscally responsible decision.”

That decision frees up close to $8 million in the Mt. Crested Butte Downtown Development Authority (DDA) that town can spend on other improvement projects. Mayor Todd Barnes said the council and DDA board will begin considering other potential projects but he indicated that increased parking is still a priority for the town.

The Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center project officially started in 2009. After eight years of fundraising, the project was close to $5 million short to start construction on the $23 million facility. The board was counting on a low-interest, long-term United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Loan to help carry financing of the project. But the USDA declined the application. Ronai said one reason given them was that future budgets for the government program were expected to be much lower in years to come, given the current administration.

“Our assessment was that we couldn’t bridge the monetary gap without that loan, especially given rising interest rates,” explained Ronai. “The terms from other sources were much less attractive and thus we would have to raise more money from private donations and that became more than we thought we could raise.”

Ronai admitted that the decision to pull the plug was difficult for the board. “It was a very tough decision,” he said. “The attempt to build such a facility has been going on for a very long time. But we had to weigh a couple of things, including the probability of getting it done versus continuing to spend donors’ money on operations and the cost of running a capital campaign. The project would cost a total of $23 million and the pledges and what we could borrow couldn’t get us over the hump.”

Ronai said the board did not want to fundraise for operating expenses, which was one reason the conference center element was included in the project. When the MCBPAC is officially dissolved the remaining cash from donations will have to be distributed to other non-profit organizations. Donors who signed pledge commitments designated other charitable organizations where the money could be distributed in such a case.

The board is still working on how to handle the BWC Café.

As for the DDA, the move gives approximately $7.9 million for the DDA board and town to spend within the designated area that is primarily in the center of Mt. Crested Butte’s business district and the Base Area.

“Of course everyone has a plan on how to spend that money and we will begin considering how best it can be used to benefit the town,” explained Barnes. “The list of potential projects is growing. The DDA will meet in July to discuss what to focus on. Finishing the existing parking garage and designing and finishing the skier drop-off behind the Grand Lodge is a priority in my opinion.

“The town will continue to pursue the land behind the Nordic Inn for parking,” Barnes continued. “That is moving slowly because of some property line issues but that acquisition was not tied to the Biery-Witt Center. It was something the town needs regardless. We will see what happens and what projects on the table can be accomplished. A joint effort between [Crested Butte Mountain Resort] and the DDA to finish parking is probably foremost.”

Barnes said that while the center could have been an economic generator for the town, the council would deal with the current situation and look to the future.

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