The Colorado Symphony wants a new concert hall

“The bottom line is: Whatever plan Next Stage comes up with will involve taking Boettcher Concert Hall down.”
6 min. read
Boettcher Concert Hall. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Boettcher Concert Hall isn't cutting it anymore, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra is officially looking to build a new home -- potentially right next door at 1245 Champa St.

The symphony on Wednesday executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the city -- essentially a statement of intent that allows them to begin planning.

"The Symphony needs a physical home as soon as is practicable and the City's schedule for the Next Stage does not provide such a facility soon enough to satisfy the Symphony," the MOU says. "The City and the Symphony are committed to working together to achieve their mutual goals and so have reached a rather unusual agreement."

The city's Next Stage plan, first unveiled in March 2016, essentially won't work for the symphony, CEO and Chair of the Board of Trustees Jerry Kern said. Boettcher Concert Hall doesn't meet the symphony's needs, and the current proposal for a new space doesn't meet its needs, either.

"To begin with [there are] not just state-of-the-art problems, but basic problems -- an antiquated system, an antiquated light system and an acoustic system that wasn't great to begin with and is less than great today," Kern said. "The bottom line is: whatever plan Next Stage comes up with will involve taking Boettcher Concert Hall down."

There is no timeline right now, but there is a deadline.

The symphony has already submitted a concept for the potential new space and the city agreed in October of last year to commit a little more than $16.7 million left from a general obligation bond approved by voters in 2007. The funds must be used by Sept. 30, 2023.

In 2007, Denver Arts & Venues Executive Director Ginger White said, Denver voters approved a bond measure dedicating $60 million to a new and/or improved facility of the Colorado Symphony, and the symphony was required to raise $30 million on its own as a part of the deal. Then 2008 happened. When the economy crashed, the symphony couldn't hold up its end and several years later asked to be released from the contract. When that happened, the city was obligated to redistribute money across other cultural organizations. Arts & Venues applied for and received some of those funds -- $16.775 million, be to exact -- and that's what it's offering to the symphony now.

From here, one of three things can happen.

"One option is that they could seek to find a new location off the campus, but within the City and County of Denver and we would authorize the $16.7 million to support a new hall within the city and county but not necessarily on the arts complex campus," White said. "The second option would be that they could continue to work with the city on our larger vision for redevelopment of the arts complex, of which they would be an important part. The third option is that they could assemble their own financing and design and construction partners and perform the redevelopment and new hall on the arts complex campus on their own."

The Colorado Symphony is eyeing 1245 Champa St.

"Basically, Next Stage still has construction beginning at the corner of 14th street and Arapahoe, and the problem with that is it's a very busy street and it impacts everything that goes on in the gallery," Kern said. "It would create havoc. And the symphony hall that they initially proposed in the construction on that corner was inadequate to our needs."

A lot just around the corner at 1245 Champa St. makes much more sense, he said. For one thing, construction happening there allows for access from Champa or Speer and wouldn't interfere with 14th Street.

But before any plan can proceed, there's a matter of historic preservation to sort out. Both the symphony and the city have concerns about the building that currently sits on the site. Right now, it's home to The Commons on Champa.

The city, meanwhile, is rethinking some parts of the Next Stage plan.

"From the city's perspective, we're continuing to do work around what does a public-private partnership look like for the arts complex," White said. "One of the things that we're doing ... is a venue market and feasibility study, because time has passed from when we released the concept for the vision for the Next Stage, and since then, the cultural landscape has changed. Now we have Levitt Pavilion, which we didn't have before, AEG is building Mission Ballroom.

"The question is: Do we still need the kind of cultural amenities on this campus that we did at that moment in time?"

Yes, the symphony has seen the kind of progress that would encourage a building a new concert hall.

Kern said average ticket sales went from "somewhere in the low 1,000s in 2013 to an excess of 1,400 in 2017.

The symphony has changed the repertoire to appeal to all age groups and a variety of audiences, and as a result the average age of symphony patrons has come down from the upper 60s to the upper 40s.

And at the start the 2018-19 season, the symphony received an endowment for two new orchestra chairs: the Tom & Noëy Congdon Chair for the Assistant Principal Flute and the Fred & Margaret Hoeppner Chair for the Principal Cello.

For years now people have been asking when the symphony would go under, Kern said, but the tide has changed.

"We're halfway through a $50 million endowment campaign. We had an initial challenge match from a private family foundation here in Colorado of $25 million, and we matched half of that. When we match the other half, we'll have a $50 million endowment, which is larger than any other cultural organizations endowment in this state," he said.

"And the last major project is building a new home."

What's next?

Kern said the symphony will meet with the city next week to discuss how to proceed with a historical evaluation of 1245 Champa St.

From there, the symphony needs to firm up its plan, get cost-of-building estimates, line up financing for the expected costs beyond the city's $16.7 million, then find a development partner.

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