Symphony looks to stay in Denver for new home

Initial agreement promises about $16.7 million toward new concert space

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During the spring and summer months, the Colorado Symphony is as likely to be rehearsing a Brahms concert as it is to be working on the score to a Harry Potter film or boning up on some Tenacious D tunes.

That’s what happens when an orchestra becomes very, very good at what it does. And audiences are noticing.

“We’re doing what Colorado’s orchestra should be doing. We’re not passive because we understand the gift the community gives us,” said Tony Pierce, chief artistic officer with the symphony. “Our main charge is to ensure there’s a future for live symphonic music here. And if that means we have to be creative and challenge ourselves, we’re ready to do it.”

Whatever the symphony is doing seems to be working, and the city wants to ensure it stays in Denver. In February, the city announced it would begin planning to replace Boettcher Concert Hall, the space the symphony currently calls home. Additionally, the symphony can look for another residence, so long as it remains inside Denver city limits.

An initial agreement between the city and the symphony also allows the symphony to consider setting up shop at the site of its current office building at 1245 Champa St.

“So much time has gone by, Boettcher is practically at risk of blowing down. It’d be cheaper to tear it down and build out a new hall,” said Jerry Kern, CEO of the symphony. “Right now, we’ve zeroed in on what would be required at a new concert hall beyond the auditorium itself. We’re close to having very definitive numbers about what it’s likely to cost.”

While there currently isn’t an agreement to build a new hall, this is an important first step in the process. As part of the initial agreement, Denver agreed to contribute about $16.7 million to the project as long as the symphony remains in the city limits. Funds will come from the Better Denver Bond program. The symphony will have to launch a capital campaign to raise the rest of the money for the project.

According to Brian Kitts, director of marketing and business development in the City and County of Denver’s arts and venues department, the city is finishing up feasibility and potential use studies associated with remodeling the DCPA, independently of the work Boettcher would need.

“We hope that this will be done later this summer and some decisions regarding next steps can be made after that,” Kitts said.

The symphony was formed in 1990 after the Denver Symphony went into bankruptcy, and there have been several attempts in ensuing years to find a more state-of-the-art home. Funding has been a key component throughout these processes, and Kern said that beginning in late 2011 until current times, the symphony has eliminated about $2 million in negative surplus and has been surplus-positive the last four years.

Part of that increase is a result of the many ways the symphony has evolved to expand its audience. In addition to playing along to popular film scores like Harry Potter, Mary Poppins and Star Wars, Pierce said the Colorado Symphony has become one of the go-to musical groups for pop artists looking to create a unique concert experience. Artists like The Flaming Lips, Gregory Alan Isakov and “Weird Al” Yankovic have all worked with the symphony.

But it’s still vitally important the symphony remains tied to the community, especially through education.

“We need to make sure people are given access to a live symphonic experience. If we’re not providing that, no one is,” Pierce said. “We do seven public benefit concerts a year, including Martin Luther King Jr., Latin beats and we’ll be returning to Civic Center Park on July 3 for a big patriotic, traditional show.”

Conversations are underway with developers and land owners on properties that might be a good fit for the symphony, with the aim of finalizing a site by June 30. Kern said there’s a lot of excitement about the possibilities of a new home — and what that will mean to performers and audiences.

“Right now, the way our lease with the city is structured, there are limits on what we can do. In a new home we could expand the nature of our repertoire and use the space the way other orchestras do,” he said. “People are beginning to realize what a great orchestra and community treasure the symphony is. Everyone in the organization and community should be proud. I am.”

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