Concepts outlined for arts district |

Concepts outlined for arts district

BRECKENRIDGE – Architects Harry Teague and Matt Stais have grand plans for an arts district in Breckenridge, but town leaders told them Tuesday they’d like to complete the Riverwalk before proceeding across town to Ridge Street.

“I have a terrible tickle in the back of my brain that we need to pull the Riverwalk together,” said Town Manger Tim Gagen. “It’s been bothering me since I’ve been here, and I don’t know why. We need to put that to bed.”

The Riverwalk Center, town officials agree, works well as a summer venue – but that is also its primary shortcoming. The giant white tent is disassembled in the fall, and the facility – with the exception of offices in the rear – closes for the winter season. Citizens and town officials have debated throughout the years how to convert it into a year-round performing arts center, but plans were never developed.

Additionally, town officials have been stymied in their attempts to encourage retailers along the Riverwalk to help animate the area by opening up the backs of their businesses to people strolling along the Blue River.

“Everybody wants something for nothing,” said town planner Jenn Cram. “And then they want the town to pay for it.”

In the meantime, the town hired Aspen-based Teague and Breckenridge-based Stais to develop conceptual plans for an arts district that could be anchored at one end by the Riverwalk Center and the other end by the new Breckenridge Theater on Ridge Street.

Tuesday evening, Teague outlined a plan that involves closing Washington Street to vehicular traffic, laying cobblestones from the Blue River Plaza across Main Street and up to Ridge Street to delineate pedestrian walkways, and creating a collection of buildings and open spaces on the northwest corner of Washington and Ridge streets where artists could show off their skills.

Four structures – the Breckenridge Theater, the building formerly occupied by Ridge Street Wines, a livery stable and a smaller barn – are currently on the town-owned property.

“Those buildings are pretty dead without something going on inside,” he said. “If you introduce life with art, the building gets a reason to live. People care about it more. And some buildings take very little effort to start the process. For some, you just say, “This will happen here,’ and it will.”

Programming ideas Teague and Stais tossed around included a blacksmithing shop, black-box theater, puppet theater, ceramics studio, exhibition area, a kitchen for cooking classes and an open-air plaza.

“It’s all just dreaming at this point,” Teague said. “It could be integrated into the community. You could have cooking classes that feature local restaurants and cooks, or art displays for local artists and galleries.”

The biggest challenge is finding someone with the artistic passion to coordinate artists and develop programs for the district – and even then, it will take prodding from that entity to make the district a reality, town officials agreed.

“It has to be a community effort,” Teague said. “It can’t be a strategy to bring more money to retail coffers. It will succeed if it’s a community effort. If it’s done as an attraction, it’ll have that transparency, and it will not make it.”

Council members asked Teague and Stais to tie the Riverwalk to the proposed arts area to create an axis of synergy between the two and across Main Street.

“The lesson we learned from the Riverwalk is to close the loop; we never have finished that,” Mayor Sam Mamula said. “The first 80 percent of it is grand, and the remaining 20 percent is begging for attention. I think we lost our vision somewhere along the way on the Riverwalk. I don’t want that to happen with this.

“This has come a long way,” he added, “but we’re not nearly where we need to be to start doing anything.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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