After initially not being considered at all, Denver’s moved to the “top of the list” of possible cities where Meow Wolf is looking to expand, the head of the New Mexico-based art organization told Denverite on Thursday.
Meow Wolf’s narrowed its search to three properties in the Mile High City, but even so, the creator of the wildly popular immersive exhibit “House of Eternal Return” is unsure if it will ultimately call Colorado home, said Vince Kadlubek, CEO and co-founder of Meow Wolf.
“We really hope to make a decision and secure a site within the next couple months, but it’s all business,” Kadlubek said. “These are big real estate deals. When you have a big real estate deal you have a lot of moving parts.”
Kadlubek and other artists and creative types in and around Santa Fe started working together in 2008. In 2014, they started a business that would eventually lead them to transform a bowling alley in the area to a 20,000-square-foot art complex in March 2016.
About 400,000 people visited the complex during its first year and so far, Kadlubek said, another 200,000 have flocked to the site in 2017. Those numbers easily make Meow Wolf one of the top attractions in New Mexico, even ahead of well-established institutions like the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
Its early success no doubt makes finding investors easier. Since the start of the year, Meow Wolf has raised $8 million in funding, including $1 million within a 48-hour period this month.
Kadlubek was tight-lipped about the spots in Denver he’s considering. One place he’s not thinking about — at least not anymore — is the vacant Sportscastle building along Broadway.
“We looked at Sportscastle. The team nearly fainted when we saw it … At first glance it was like, ‘This is the best building we’ve ever seen,’ ” he said. “Some of the biggest variables for us have to do with parking, accessibility and size. Sportscastle was great, but a little smaller than what we’re looking for and its accessibility was not as clear as maybe we wanted.”
Meow Wolf wants to draw 1.5 million annual visitors to wherever it puts its new site, and the company predicts many people will need a place to park.
“We would love to be in a downtown zone, but if there’s not obvious, immediate parking, it makes it really tough especially because our main demographic is going to be families — families coming from suburbs and driving from Littleton or Globeville or whatever,” Kadlubek said.
Well known Denver developer Dana Crawford, local artists and the city of Denver are all trying to find Meow Wolf a home in Denver. So far the city has not offered any cash to lure the company.
“OED has been proud to work with Meow Wolf and to support their possible expansion into Denver,” said Derek Woodbury, spokesman for the Denver Office of Economic Development.
“To date, we have largely served an ombudsman role by connecting the organization to regulatory and cultural resources within the city. As the conversations continue to progress and project details are being finalized, OED will explore additional avenues to support this project.”
Santa Fe has offered financial incentives to help Meow Wolf start and grow. Kadlubek said while the company will likely apply for incentives that are available in the markets it’s looking, Meow is not “trying to strong arm or see something on the table in order to make a decision.”
“Part of the strategy right now is we don’t want to say we’re definitely going to any city. We have opportunities in many cities. The cities we have the best opportunities right now are Denver, Austin, Houston and Las Vegas, Nevada,” he said. “Any one of those cities could be the next city we go to. We still don’t know which city is going to be home to the next Meow Wolf.”
Meow Wolf currently has about 150 employees and is looking to grow, but partly due to its limitations it could be anywhere from 2019 to 2021 before the new location actually opens. Once a site is selected, Kadlubek said, Meow Wolf will go out and raise more money for the expansion.
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