TASHCO wants theater, but funding inhibits progress

Efforts and studies ready, but budget issues forced a delay

Luke Zarzecki
Posted 1/13/22

Thornton’s Ward One City Councilor Kathy Henson wants a new performing arts center for the city. An artist herself, she thinks it’s the perfect time. “I really think that the time is right for …

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TASHCO wants theater, but funding inhibits progress

Efforts and studies ready, but budget issues forced a delay


Thornton’s Ward One City Councilor Kathy Henson wants a new performing arts center for the city. An artist herself, she thinks it’s the perfect time.

“I really think that the time is right for us to really explore that, as a city with our rapid growth and our continued anticipated growth,” she said at Thornton’s Planning Session meeting on Jan. 4. 

Lauren Turner, the president of the Thornton Arts, Sciences and Humanities Council (TASHCO) board, is also interested in pursuing the idea further. 

“I would, and I think most of the Board would be really happy with pursuing that if that seemed like something that was feasible for our city, I think it could really be a great thing for Thornton,” said Turner.

Discussion around a new performing arts center in Thornton is not new. Mary Welsch, a past president of TASHCO, said the talk began in 2000. Prior to 2019, it remained a priority. 

Consultants Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture and the City of Thornton completed one study in 2018 and a Victus Advisors completed another in 2019. 

Even so, the discussion ended in 2019 with the new city manager, Kevin Woods. Welsch said budgetary issues put the kibosh on the project moving forward and Todd Barnes, a spokesperson for the City of Thornton, echoed that sentiment. 

Alisa Zimmerman, the Arts and Culture Manager for Thornton, said COVID played a role in deprioritizing the theater, as well.

“COVID hit in March 2020 and, in terms of it being a priority, (this) went to the bottom of the list,” she said. “It’s certainly out there as a potential project, but I think there are other priorities the city has, as a result Covid that have taken precedence.”

Welsch said she thinks a new performing arts theater is not on the radar for the City or the current council now. 

“It’s just not a priority for these folks, and not for the staff either,” she said. 

During the planning session meeting, Mayor Kulmann asked Henson to bring the issue to the strategic planning session to discuss with the entire council in April. 

Money Talks 

Much time and money has been put into the project. According to Barnes, the Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture study cost $8,195.59 and the Victus Advisors study cost $43,450.

The TASHCO board began researching and receiving input from community members and planned to hold community meetings in the summer of 2019, according to Roberta Ayala, Vice-President of TASHCO. They printed fliers and used some of the TASHCO budget to inform the community. 

“We put all (the fliers) out and then at the last second, the city manager (Kevin Woods) told us ‘nevermind, we’re not doing that,’” Ayala said

Zimmerman said the studies determined cost ranges for three different size theaters. 

For a 1,000-2,000 seat theater, cost rests at $50-70 million, with an operating cost at $1-1.5 million. Similar theaters would be the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, and the Union Colony Center in Greeley.

For a 400-500 seat theater, the building cost would be $35-45 million and operating cost would be $1-2 million. A comparison would be the Lone Tree Art Center.

A 200 seat black box theater would be $5-10 million with an operating cost less than half a million dollars. The Arts Hub in Lafayette would be similar.

At the same time, a theater would bring in commerce, Ayala said. 

“Stuff is expensive, I get it, but if you look at neighboring cities like Northglenn, they put money into parks, and they put money into their new theater and it does help build those businesses around there,” she said. 

In comparison, the Trail Winds Recreation Center in ward one cost about $45 million for design and construction, and in 2021 ran on an operating cost of $1,775,552 from Parks and Open Space tax revenues. 

Zimmerman said the money for a new theater and a recreation center is like comparing apples and oranges, because they have different methods of funding. 

South Thornton 

From the reports, south Thornton proved a preferred spot to place the theater. 

The first report listed four out of the five spots suitable for the center and all were in South Thornton. One of the sites has been deleted from the report. 

Ayala thinks South Thornton’s diversity would benefit the potential theater. She said she heard rumors about developer’s building it in the northern part of Thornton. 

“The idea behind South Thornton too, is that culturally, it’s predominantly Latino, and a diverse community would enrich a performing arts complex,” she said. “Putting it in a homogenized development just seems like it would be counterintuitive to what a robust arts center would really benefit from right,” she said. 

The four spots include Grant St. by Brittany Hill, Colorado and Riverdale Rd., Community Center Park and the Shopping Center 88th and Wash. 

“Site #5 at 88th Ave and Washington St. was evaluated as the most promising site due to it’s location in an established commercial area of the City with good transportation access, restaurant adjacency, proximate utilities, and little site preparation costs,” the report says. 

The Thornton Shopping Center (TSC) has two major problems. First is the contamination of the soil and groundwater with perchloroethylene (PERC), a dry-cleaning chemical, of which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment enforces the remediation. The second set of issues is structural and aesthetic ones with buildings, parking lots and sidewalks, which the city enforces through issuing municipal code violations.

Thornton City Council voted unanimously to move forward with acquiring the Thornton Shopping Center through eminent domain on Dec. 14, which would put the property in the city’s hands, both the contaminated and uncontaminated portions.

But Henson said community members have other goals for the land. Henson said she prefers the Brittany Hill location for the theater. 

“We want TSC to be a mixed use development with gathering spaces for the community, retail and some residential,” she said. 

Whether a new theater is in Thornton’s future remains unknown. Ayala warns against rumors permitting a developer to complete the project.

“(A developer) could promise all kinds of things, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good for our community. They just want to build here and make money,” she said.

Thornton, theater, TASHCO


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