Denver, Colorado: Council Approves Outdoor Movie Contract for Civic Center


After hearing dozens of opinions both for and against, the Denver City Council late Tuesday voted to allow a Massachusetts firm to set up a 1,400-seat movie theater in Civic Center for 50 days this summer.

About 70 people spoke at the public hearing, which ended with an 8-4 approval around midnight.

US Open Air LLC wants to show films in the western grassy section of Civic Center for 30 consecutive nights starting in July, with 10 days of setup and cleanup at each end. Tickets to the first-run films would be $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Concessionaires inside the restricted area would be allowed to sell food and liquor.

A 30-foot-tall screen would be lowered each day, although the grandstand, nearly the same height, would remain in place. The shows are proposed for Civic Center this summer and in City Park for the summers of 2011 and 2012.

Supporters said it represents a wonderful opportunity for the city to make some money while detractors said the city will receive only a pittance compared with what the operator stands to earn. Open Air has operated similar packages in cities around the world for roughly 20 years. This would be its first showing in North America.

Carolyn Etter, former manager of the Department of Parks and Recreation in the Federico PeГ±a administration, spoke against the theater, objecting to charging admission in a public park by a profit-making company.

"The public parks should be free and open to all," she said. "This is bad public policy, a bad precedent for the commercialization of public parks."

She said later she believes this is the first time admission has ever been charged in a Denver park.

But Keith Pryor and John Hayden, residents of Curtis Park, spoke in favor. Pryor called it "a phenomenal opportunity for the city that would add greatly to the quality of life here."

Hayden called the area "dead space" and said he tried a similar program in Curtis Park in 2007, which failed financially because it depended on donations.

Former Councilwoman Cathy Donohue opposed it, calling it history in the making because it is "the first time in more than 100 years that any administration would break the charter to commercialize the parks."

Jay Rust, who lives near Cheesman Park, said "we are taking a bath" with this contract. He estimated the city would earn no more than $20,000 a year on rent of $300 a day and a small percentage of ticket sales, which kicks in only after more than 33,000 tickets are sold. He said the city could earn as much as $84,000 a year on seat taxes.

But Charlie Busch of the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association said the seat- tax revenues would come into the city anyway if the same patrons saw the movies in existing theaters.

Melanie Blum, along with David Tryba, supported the program because it would possibly drive the drug dealers and panhandlers away from the portion of Civic Center along Broadway.

A representative of the Colfax on the Hill community group said he supports the program because of the additional revenue it should bring to merchants on East Colfax Avenue.

Mike McPhee


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