Evolution: What’s Happening With the Chief Theater?

The Chief Theater shut down in 2021 for the next step in the evolution of the building. The owners, Kori McClurg and Barry Sherman have a vision of bringing the building back to its former glory, while preserving the past. Rumor has it that there was once a movie theater across the street from where the Chief now stands. A gentleman by the name of Mark Schafermeyer went in to buy a ticket when he heard the owner say to an Indigenous American, that he was not welcome there. Schafermeyer, outraged, decided to open his own theater where everyone would be welcome. He deeded the property to local “Chief” Harry Gordon, a descendant of the Miami Tribe of Indigenous Americans. The theater, originally a five hundred seat venue once welcomed Vaudeville acts from across the United States. In other iterations the Chief was a movie theater and a smaller capacity entertainment venue.

In the new iteration, the Chief will bring a revitalized, flexible and larger performing arts venue to downtown Steamboat. The goal is to create a community event center, where residents, businesses and visitors can gather. The new design will focus on an environmentally sustainable operations model to support performances as well as the restaurant. Most importantly the building will become a vibrant community asset that increases awareness of programmed events while attracting visitors and locals to downtown.

As some exploratory measures were taken, McClurg and Sherman discovered the original 1927 brick façade appears to be largely intact behind the façade that is forward facing today. “Our team conducted extensive research and examination of historical photos. Then, we selectively removed some of the brick in strategic places to confirm a match with the historical photos. We replaced the existing brick until we are ready to kick off the full construction project. Our intention is to remove the current façade and restore the 1927 brick façade.” For McClurg and Sherman it’s important to be sensitive to the aesthetics of Steamboat and to honor the community’s history and future.

For those wondering why there hasn’t been more activity at the venue, COVID-19 caused building costs to skyrocket, upping the project cost significantly higher than originally expected. “We want to do a quality redesign so we are pausing to reassess our financial situation,” said Kori. “We are optimistic that we can finish raising capital this year and kick off construction next year. That timeline would have us opening in 2024.”

Once finished the flexible space will boast a flat floor, retractable seats and complete food and beverage service. The new design will serve everything from a venue for performances like opera, theater, comedy, concerts and movies, to a venue for hosting parties, fund-raising events, workshops and more. One of the goals is to coordinate with the other performing and visual arts venues in town to create synergies and economies of scale with traveling shows and events.

“We are still working hard to see this project come to fruition. We very much want to demonstrate that it is possible to create a performing arts space that embraces sustainability and the environment. In Steamboat especially, we are so reliant on the natural environment. Most of us came here because we love the outdoors and the beauty of the natural world. We want to support this community by supporting all those interests in the arts and the environment,” said Kori. “At the same time, we continue to maximize inclusiveness through outreach to local arts groups and businesses and are continuing the theme of inclusiveness in our capital campaign.” AWA

ELEVATE THE ARTS: Visit the new website www.chief.theater/ to stay involved. Support the cause through a donation of any amount.