City leaders are looking to the historic City Auditorium to star in the revitalization of downtown.
But in order to play that role, City Aud, as it’s commonly called, needs major repairs, upgrades and some fresh ideas.
The city issued a request for proposals Oct. 3, seeking a company to professionally manage and maintain the facility, market and promote events and bookings, provide high-quality customer service and operate the auditorium in a cost-effective manner.
The operator also will develop a long-term maintenance strategy and a capital improvements plan. Proposals are due by 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.
But beyond the basic requirements, the city wants to find a contractor who can look at the auditorium through new eyes.
“We’re looking for a variety of responses in terms of innovation, creativity and re-envisioning what this facility could be,” said Nicole Spindler, the city’s procurement services manager. “We’re asking proposers to bring in some outside-of-the-box thinking for this facility and full use of it.”
The auditorium needs some big-ticket improvements, including new HVAC and sprinkler systems, a new roof and exterior windows, said Kelly Wetta-Ingrassia, general manager of the auditorium for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department for the past 10 years.
The bathrooms were renovated three years ago, but the main auditorium’s ceiling, 8,000-square-foot floor and original 1923 seating need to be replaced.
“The main level is [Americans with Disabilities Act]-accessible,” Wetta-Ingrassia said, “but there are a lot of spaces throughout the facility that aren’t. We have large projects such as an elevator to the balcony — people have to use the stairs now, and there’s a long list of smaller items.”
The auditorium has hosted more than 470 events and has been used for more than 4,000 hours this year, said Kim King, recreation and administration manager for the Parks Department.
As of the end of August, events covered 81 percent of the facility’s direct operating costs; the city’s General Fund covered the rest.
“In theory, we’d love to be able to cover all of the expense budget,” King said.
One of the new contractor’s tasks would be to attract events that generate more revenue.
“We don’t get as many concerts as we’d like,” Wetta-Ingrassia said. “Promoters have to rent sound and lights — a very large cost for a quality concert. If we had sound and lights, we could focus on getting more concerts in here.”
Most events are scheduled during evenings and weekends.
Business hours Mondays through Thursdays “are where the gaps are now that we haven’t been able to capitalize on,” King said. “We have a lot of demand in other respects.”
Responses to the request for proposals could come from the private sector or nonprofits, King said.
“We’ve left it very open in terms of who could respond,” she said.
Eastside urban renewal
The City Auditorium anchors an urban renewal area that consists of the block on which it stands. Designated as an urban renewal site in 2004, its boundaries are East Kiowa Street, North Nevada Avenue, East Pikes Peak Avenue and North Weber Street.
“The reasoning behind putting it in the URA boundary was that the city doesn’t have any money to bring it up to standards so that it gets used more,” said Wynne Palermo, chair of the CSURA board. “The thought was then, and I believe it still is, that we don’t want it to ever get torn down.”
Development objectives for the block include eliminating blight, providing a range of financing mechanisms, encouraging public-private partnerships to implement urban renewal on the block and increasing property values.
The area has attracted a couple of development ideas.
A Pueblo developer has plans to build a 120-room Hyatt Place hotel in the northwestern corner of the block, and Nor’Wood Development Group, which owns most of the south half of the block, has proposed a two-building, mixed-use development on a lot just south of City Aud.
“We don’t have any formal application on file from the development group at this point,” said Jariah Walker, executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority. “We’re not looking at the hotel going vertical until spring or early summer 2019. My guess is that the Nor’Wood piece would be 2019 as well, or a little bit later.”
If those projects come to fruition, “we can take the tax increment dollars generated from the projects that are produced to help pledge some increments to the City Aud or improvements on the block that would benefit the City Aud,” he said.
Tax increment financing helps fund projects within an urban renewal district by determining base revenue — the amount available before establishment of a TIF district, and making available the additional revenues, or increments, generated by new development projects to underwrite improvements or subsidize development.
Walker said it’s difficult to know how much revenue would be available for the City Aud and other improvements until the development proposals come online, a contractor for the auditorium is chosen and its ultimate use is determined.
If the numbers work out, the URA could consider improvements such as public art, streetscaping and parking upgrades.
The main auditorium, which can accommodate as many as 2,200 people, and the adjacent, 225-seat Lon Chaney Theatre have hosted thousands of performances, concerts and graduations; professional sporting events from boxing, wrestling and martial arts matches to basketball games and roller derby; and conventions, exhibitions and trade shows.
The auditorium is one of a handful of historic structures that remain in downtown Colorado Springs.
The city’s voters authorized a $390,000 bond issue on April 5, 1921, to build a large, multipurpose arena and theater to support the city’s growing social and cultural needs. The following year, Colorado Springs City Council authorized the purchase of three land parcels at the corner of Kiowa and Weber streets for $23,000.
Designed by prominent local architects Thomas MacLaren and Charles Thomas in Classical Revival style, the auditorium was completed in April 1923. Its final cost, including furniture, fixtures and stage equipment, was $424,910. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Palermo thinks improving the City Aud would spur other redevelopment projects on the east side of downtown.
“I know it’s a lot of money to bring a building like that up to some kind of standard,” Palermo said. “But it’s right downtown and growing in value, particularly if we could make it better.
“We want to make it shine again. I think this is the time to get that accomplished.”