The anticipated 2018 opening of the $60 million University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Ent Center for the Arts means the start of a much-anticipated relationship between the university and local arts organizations.
About 70 University of Colorado leaders, state and local elected officials and community visionaries will gather Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Center for the Arts. They'll meet at a location just north of the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences on North Nevada Avenue across from University Village Colorado shopping center. The public is invited.
"It's a game changer for this campus and for the community," said Drew Martorella, executive director of UCCS Presents. His duties include operation of the Ent Center for the Arts, TheatreWorks and the Galleries of Contemporary Art. "This building is a manifestation of all that UCCS has stood for in regards to arts and culture over the past 50 years of history."
Once the 92,000-square-foot building is complete, UCCS officials hope it becomes a haven for both university organizations, including TheatreWorks and the Galleries of Contemporary Art, and local arts organizations, including high school performing arts departments, Colorado Springs Dance Theatre, Colorado Springs Children's Chorale and Colorado Springs Conservatory.
The conservatory provides after-school performing arts training downtown at the conservatory and The Mezzanine for ages 4-19.
"We typically in the summer are in need of a venue of that size - the 700-seat venue," said Linda Weise, executive director of the conservatory. "We'll continue to use the other venues, but the larger one was most appealing to us."
Chamber Orchestra of the Springs is also on tap to shuffle its performances from two local churches into the new space.
"We love playing there (at the churches) but they're very confined spaces," said Thomas Wilson, the orchestra's music director, "and to have a little bit more flexibility is meaningful to us. It'll be easier for us to collaborate because we'll have more room on stage. We'd like to do more dance collaborations and more operas. It would be nice to have entire (guest) ensembles."
The Center for the Arts will include the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre and the Osborne Studio Theatre with space for the UCCS Music Program and Theatre and Dance Program, the 240-seat Chapman Foundations Recital Hall and a 750-seat performance space.
"It's a quantum leap forward," TheatreWorks' artistic director Murray Ross said. "It's as good a theater of its kind in the country, or even the world. It will serve our work as well as it can be served."
Officials from UCCS and Ent Federal Credit Union this year agreed to a 15-year marketing and operating agreement worth $12.6 million. Ent will donate the money in installments to help pay for construction, the Colorado General Assembly approved $27.6 million, the University of Colorado Office of the President pledged $10 million and private donors provided $10 million.
The arts center will be built on the site of three former softball fields and parking lots. Site work focused on roads, utilities and other infrastructure started in the spring.
Thursday's groundbreaking is especially important to UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak.
"I've done a lot of groundbreaking, but it has a special meaning to me," she said. "So many people said we couldn't get this done and discouraged me from trying - not in a negative way. The opportunity to bring something like this to the Springs and to the campus, it is a significant accomplishment of a lot of people."