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City And Symphony Agree, Public Input Needed On Boettcher's Future

Semple Brown Design
Graphic rendering of the Semple Brown Design firm's proposal for the Colorado Symphony to reconfigure Boettcher Concert Hall.​";

Call it a classic landlord tenant dispute. The City of Denver and the Colorado Symphony Association don't see eye-to-eye on what to do with the aging Boettcher Concert Hall. They do concur it is time to open up the dialogue.

"This needs to be a public discussion," said Evan Lasky, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Colorado Symphony Association, the business arm of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. "It can't be behind closed doors and at committee meetings, at least as far as we are concerned."

That's why it publicly released a $40 million renovation plan for the 2,700 seat Boettcher Concert Hall, home to the CSO for a quarter century.

The symphony's proposal is among the ideas that will be considered by a forthcoming Executive Leadership Team appointed by Mayor Michael Hancock.

"It [the leadership team] will of course consider any and all viable options for Boettcher and the complex," said Dan Rowland of the Denver Arts and Venues Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications in an emailed statement.

Comprised of arts leaders, planning experts and city residents, Mayor Hancock said the team will be charged with leading a "robust community input process" to determine a "comprehensive vision" for not only Boettcher Concert Hall but the broader the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

The city has grappled with how best to address the challenges at Boettcher since at least 2007. Ideas considered by the city in the past range from renovation to demolition of the 36-year-old space.

The vision the CSO outlined in its proposed plan addresses four major concerns – acoustics, the stage, seating, and technology.

CSO Principal Clarinet Jason Shafer said he and his colleagues are encouraged by the plan.

"It's not, 'this hall is so broken that we need to start fresh,'" said Shafer. "Small adjustments would make a big difference not just for the musicians but for the audience."

Shafer said he is most concerned with improving the acoustics in Boettcher, which he called a "major issue" for performers.

"A lot of times the symphony will play in other spaces and it's amazing how much better we can hear each other's playing in other halls," said Shafer.

To accommodate Boettcher's acoustics, Shafer changed his playing style, opting for a custom built reed that allows the instrument to be better heard by fellow players and the audience.

Boettcher's shortcomings and proposed remedies have been put center stage in the CSO's proposed plan, but the city said it needs to consider the entire arts complex.

"This is much larger than any single venue, and we're looking forward to a robust discussion of the creative opportunities," Kent Rice, Executive Director of Denver Arts & Venues, said in a statement.

In recent months the city and the symphony have found some common ground.

The City Council is renting Boettcher to the CSO for $1 during its 2014-2015 season. In exchange, the CSO agreed to donate $270,000 in tickets and concert sponsorships to the city – nearly the amount it would have spent on rent.

The move has a dual purpose. In the short-term, that free access to the arts meets one of the goals of the city's cultural plan and could, in the long-term, help the CSO build audience.

Mayor Hancock could begin appointing members of to the Executive Leadership team October 1 but a decision on the fate of Boettcher won't come any time soon. Its formal recommendations will be made next spring, Rowland said.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Symphony Association's Lasky said the symphony is planning its 2015-2016 season and hopes it will have access the Boettcher Hall.

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO.

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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