The theater stands empty at Colorado Crossing, a silent, eerie testament to a developer’s failed ambitions.
Flanked by the skeletons of two drab and unfinished office buildings, the 14-screen theater is all-but complete but appears unlikely to ever screen its first film.
Less than a half-mile away, the bustling multi-screen Hollywood Theater draws a regular crowd, something it has done with little trouble for almost two years.
The fate of what would have been a Cinemark theater now rests in the hands of the state’s bankruptcy court trustee.
What happens to the theater — not to mention the surrounding buildings that were to be part of Colorado Crossing — is of interest not only to creditors but to the neighboring communities of Flying Horse and Gleneagle.
The outcome also will speak to the economic health of the city.
Failure to find a way to either revive the theater or put it to some other use will spell the difference between creating a thriving center of commerce or ending up with a sad symbol of the real estate boom’s excesses.
In hindsight, it appears its plight could have been predicted.
The saga started in the summer of 2007. Now-bankrupt Sunshine Development CEO Jannie Richardson hoped to complete the theater and its adjacent parking garage by the following spring.
The complex was to be a first-phase centerpiece for the 1.6 million-square-foot mixed use, 153-acre Colorado Crossing development that she dubbed, “the city’s second downtown.”
At the same time, however, Nor’Wood Development Vice President Fred Veitch had secured a contract with Hollywood Theaters to build a multiplex theater just blocks away at the 130-acre Interquest Marketplace.
Both developers knew a glitzy theater complex would generate traffic, creating a magnet for other retailers.
Today, industry experts question why the competing developers would build two facilities so close together.
Theater operators usually try to avoid head-to-head sites. In the theater development business that means locating three miles from each other.
Both developers understood the stakes and proceeded anyway.
The situation created a good deal of drama for some city departments.
Plans were submitted within a day of each other in early August 2007 to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.
The building department staff received two “Rapid Response” requests — one for each project — from the city’s economic development department on Aug. 27.
PPBRD Chief of Plan Review Roger Lovell coached his team to remain neutral.
“I didn’t want to pick a winner and a loser,” he said, noting that his department was simply tasked with reviewing plans and issuing building permits.
Hollywood Theaters got out of the gate first. The general contractor, Colorado Structures Inc., was issued the first building permit on Aug. 24, 2007 and, as was customary, paid all plan and permit fees up front.
Sunshine Development received its permit two weeks later, but was allowed to delay fee payment until the project was further along.
“We wanted it to succeed and tried to work with them,” Lovell said.
By fall 2007 both developments were approved, foundations were poured and construction was proceeding.
Soon after, however, Richardson’s dream began to lose momentum.
Plagued by work slowdowns and the lack of a properly licensed general contractor, Sunshine’s team had to re-group. In December 2007, the company finally got its own qualified in-house general contractor.
Work proceeded, but was stopped nine months later when PPBRD officials cited “deviations from the approved (construction) plan.”
In the meantime, the Hollywood Theater was completed. On June 18, 2008, the building received its certificate of occupancy and immediately opened for business. Since then, revenues have steadily grown, according to Veitch.
“It’s been a true success — and has helped draw other restaurants and retailers,” he said, adding that in addition to the new Colorado Mountain Brewery, at least two other restaurants will soon open at Interquest Marketplace.
Richardson’s project, as has been widely reported, was not as fortunate.
Faced with mounting bills from contractors who had helped build Colorado Crossing’s first phase, the company ran into financial straits when credit suddenly dried up. The developer, once known for funding many of her projects with cash, was caught in the recession’s snare.
Her SRKO Limited Family Partnership filed for bankruptcy in February 2010, with more than $34 million owed on a development with a new appraised value of $15 million.
“It’s too bad,” Lovell said. “Her mixed-use concept would have created a place to live, play and work — a small city within the city. It was very innovative.”
Having the site sit empty, he said, “isn’t good for the city.”
The future for a now-abandoned theater site, marooned in the middle of a large tract of undeveloped land, looks dim, at least for the next several years, according to Mulliken Weiner Berg and Jolivet attorney Karl Berg.
Berg represents five of the project’s lienholders.
“The bankruptcy process is very slow and with more than 40 lienholders (altogether), very complex,” he said.
The many issues still to be resolved also diminish the chance that a new developer might arrive on the scene to buy the vacated parcel.
Rich Kraus, president of Denver-based Acumen Development and a frequent consultant on redeveloped entertainment projects, sees several options ahead for the theater and the site.
“I’ve got two similar projects working right now,” he said. “One is looking at turning a theater into a family entertainment center. Another is looking at a Dallas-style mega-church. Movie theaters are not that hard to retrofit,” he said.
That’s not so far-fetched. After all, Ted Haggard needs a new location for his St. James congregation.