As we all know, Colorado College’s takeover of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is a done deal — like it or not.
In the accepted narrative, Colorado College is the FAC’s sugar daddy, rescuing a poor threadbare maiden from poverty and insecurity. Thanks to the college’s kindness, the roof will be repaired; her family made safe and secure; and she’ll live happily ever after.
But sugar daddies come with a price, as do corporate takeovers. Remember Lyin’ Eyes, the great Eagles song?
“City girls just seem to find out early
How to open doors with just a smile
A rich old man
And she won’t have to worry
She’ll dress up all in lace and go in style …
“Late at night a big old house gets lonely
I guess every form of refuge has its price
And it breaks her heart to think her love is only
Given to a man with hands as cold as ice.”
Why, you might wonder, did Colorado College choose the Fine Arts Center? It’s not as if they were seeking the city’s most deserving nonprofit to partner with. If so, CC might have chosen Care & Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, The Arc or Springs Rescue Mission as the target of its benevolence.
But this was a simple corporate deal, an acquisition that benefited all parties to the transaction. Instead of focusing on gauzy generalities (Oh, the arts! Oh, the students! Oh, the history! Oh, the grand building!), let’s look at tangible assets.
Colorado College can best be compared to an octopus in an aquarium or a saltwater crocodile in your backyard. The creatures are both dynamic, growing organisms — they need more space and they’ll do their best to get it. According to the recently released U.S. News & World Report rankings of national liberal arts colleges, Colorado College rates No. 24. That’s respectable enough, but it’s a long way from top-ranked Williams College in Massachusetts.
Colleges will tell you that such rankings are meaningless, but try telling that to ambitious students and their parents. Many parents and students believe firmly that getting into a top-ranked college is a ticket to success. You’re surrounded by the best and brightest; your professors are nationally renowned; the undergraduate experience is unmatched. Your talented peers will go on to do great things — imagine being at Wesleyan (ranked only a little higher than CC) and sharing space in the freshman dorms with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
So here’s Colorado College, with a landlocked campus bisected by two busy streets. It can’t expand to the north because of the political clout of North End homeowners, and Monument Creek blocks it to the west. Closing Cascade Avenue isn’t a realistic option and expanding across Weber Street would present a lot of challenges.
So along comes the FAC deal — and what a deal it is.
The property is directly adjacent to the college. By acquiring it, CC owns all the real estate fronting Cache la Poudre Street between Cascade Avenue and its intersection with Mesa Avenue, except for two small fragments of Monument Valley Park. It also acquires the FAC parking lot, which might lead to future acquisition of adjacent properties in the 700 block of North Cascade Avenue.
And look at the improvements — they’re not too shabby. You’ve got an American architectural icon in the original John Gaw Meem building, as well as a $30 million addition designed by David Tryba. The original building needs some work, but it’s structurally solid and well suited to its multiple uses. Including the annex, the FAC building contains 132,286 square feet, and that doesn’t include the separate Bemis Art School facility.
What would it be worth as real estate? Not as much as you might think, given the difficulty and expense of converting it to commercial or residential use — certainly less than $100 per square foot.
But for Colorado College, the only logical buyer, it’s worth a lot more. It’s a vast educational, performance and exhibition space. That’s without placing any value on the collections, which probably couldn’t be replicated for any price. If formally appraised, I’d guess that the aggregate value would be well north of $1 billion.
Many of CC’s competitors have on-campus teaching art museums, notably Williams. The Williams College Museum of Art has a magnificent collection housed in a cramped, functionally obsolete building. They must be looking upon CC’s acquisition with envious disbelief — I’m sure that Williams President Adam Falk is waiting for CC President Jill Tiefenthaler’s call.
“Hey Adam,” she might say, “congratulations on being No. 1 — and wait till next year!”