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Posted: April 01, 2010

Cote’s Colorado: the arts—and the beat—pump up the economy

CBCA hits 25; Broomfield venue revived

Mike Cote

Dancers garbed in brilliant crimson flexing taut muscles. A Western music revue conjuring Hank Williams and diesel fumes. A soprano stretching the limits of the human voice. A ventriloquist making a puppet out of a politician. Aging baby boomers fanning the fumes of the Grateful Dead.

One of these acts did not appear at the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts 25th anniversary luncheon. (Hint: As entertaining as it was, the event did not include a long, strange trip.)

The CBCA celebrated its 25th anniversary in March with a variety of artful ensembles, but only the puppet invoked rock 'n' roll to be among the economic drivers of the arts economy. Mayor John Hickenlooper, who would later perform as a "dummy," referenced Denver-rock-acts-gone-national the Fray, the Flobots and One Republic during his brief talk at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

The closest the event came to pop music was when Nick and Helen Forster dueted on a rootsy version of the Eurythmics' "Who's That Girl." But the presence of the "Etown" hosts, who tape most of their nationally syndicated radio shows at the Boulder Theater, also served as a reminder that the arts stretch beyond the limits of Denver, in this case, west across the U.S. 36 corridor.

And that brings us back to the Grateful Dead. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh's two-night Further performances celebrated the rechristening of the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield last month. The venue began its life as the Broomfield Events Center, a once struggling and much maligned arena located halfway between Denver and Boulder and now primed to become the Pepsi Center Jr. that business and community leaders envisioned.

Since opening three years ago, the Broomfield Event Center failed to live up to expectations, too often hosting sporting events that drew hundreds instead of thousands, despite its plum location.
A new team recruited to operate the 6,500-seat venue aims to elevate its status through a seven-figure remodeling project that adds vibrant colors and a stronger theater setting and a schedule that focuses on music. Acts already booked for 2010 include Muse, Carrie Underwood, Sesame Street Live, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the Denver Roller Dolls.

The 1STBANK Center also will become home to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, paying tribute to such local heroes as Tommy Bolin, Judy Collins, Earth, Wind & Fire and the aforementioned Fray.
The two-day stand by Further was the kind of high-profile act you'd expect from concert promoter Chuck Morris, CEO of a joint venture between AEG Live Rocky Mountains and Kroenke Sports Enterprises to manage 1STBANK Center.

A couple of years ago, Morris said he wanted to add another venue to the AEG stable when the economy turned around or if the right deals came along.

"This was a real gift from heaven as far as I was concerned. We were looking to have a home court, a home venue," Morris said during an interview at his AEG office in Denver.

Morris' team spent six months renovating the venue, improving the sound, building a permanent stage and lighting system and adding 1,000 more parking spaces. Transportation will be improved thanks to a pedestrian bridge across U.S. 36 and an RTD stop that will begin picking up riders in May.

Although sports will remain in the entertainment mix, expect more high-profile music acts on the marquee.

"What we want is to concentrate on music but be able to convert it for sports when we need it," Morris said. "And there's the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, which is something I always wanted to do but never had the right building to do it, which is to pay homage to the great history of Colorado music, which I've been blessed and lucky enough to be a part of for 40 years."

So we have an arts business group with a 25-year history and a local promoter with a 40-year career. Perhaps some rock 'n' roll at that next CBCA luncheon? I'd even settle for those Denver Roller Dolls.

Listen to a podcast of an interview with Chuck Morris or read a transcript of the Q&A at cobizmag.com.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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