Music venue planned in former Pirate’s Liquor building

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Chris Copeland (left) and Eric Bolt plan to open a music venue called Rawkus in the former Pirate’s Liquor Outlet building at 3506 N. Academy Blvd.

It didn’t take market analysis to convince Chris Copeland there was demand for another music venue in Colorado Springs.

The silence told him everything he needed to know.

So, Copeland bought the 12,500-square-foot former Pirates Liquor Outlet building at 3506 N. Academy Blvd. and will open a 500-person music venue, called Rawkus, in June. He hopes to host national touring acts as well as local musicians.

But, the business model for small venues is shaky.

Smaller venues can struggle to be profitable because fewer ticket sales mean less money is left over after paying musicians.

But that hasn’t fazed Copeland.

He said he’s aware of the challenges, but remains optimistic about success simply because Colorado Springs is starving for a live-music scene.

Other cities in Colorado are not.

“There really is a lot going on in Colorado,” Copeland said. “They’re coming to Denver and they’re doing shows in Boulder and Fort Collins. But they’re not coming to Colorado Springs.”

Copeland has been plotting to change that, quietly piecing together plans for months. The venue received its liquor license earlier this month and construction is under way.

Copeland has no experience running a music venue, but he’s no stranger to business success.

About six years ago, Copeland, a Springs native, opened the 40 Thieves Hookah Lounge. He franchised the business, and there are now five locations across the country. The lounge features dancing and musical acts.

About two years ago, Copeland began looking for a new challenge.

“I was definitely looking for another venture,” he said. “I kind of took that as far as it can go.”

The teens who frequented his hookah lounge have grown into their early 20s and now have a growing desire — and finances — for more entertainment.

“They’re begging for a place to have a good time,” Copeland said.

Others in Colorado Springs have noticed that there’s a demand for music, but along the way, they’ve noticed, too, that it’s a tricky business.

Julian Heron, who created the Craft Lager Festival in Manitou Springs, began looking into music venue plans a few years ago. He wants to build a 4,500-person venue on the west side of Manitou as well as a 500-person venue where Moroccan restaurant Tajine Alami is located.

He and his business partners conducted a feasibility study for a music venue in Colorado Springs, and found, as everyone already knew, that there is a dramatic shortage of venues in the metropolitan area.

His analysis and conversations with promoters left him thinking a venue for 400 to 500 people might not work.

“It’s probably going to be too small to be worth it,” Heron said.

Promoters told him they struggle with venues that size because most touring artists can easily attract 1,500 people, so they price tickets higher, too high for a crowd of 500.

Heron said he studied the Fox Theater in Boulder and found it struggles to make a profit because it’s in that size range.

Downtown Colorado Springs nightclub and venue 32 Bleu closed several years ago after struggling to make money, but venues like Stargazers Theater and The Black Sheep, which hold about 500 people each, have managed to survive.

Copeland believes 500 is a sweet spot for Colorado Springs and that Rawkus to draw big names and still fill the house for a more intimate feeling.

Interest in the new venue has been positive and traffic to the web site, www.RawkusNation.com, where they’re surveying visitors about what music they prefer, has been strong.

“The response has been great. We haven’t even officially launched yet and we have 50 or 60 responses,” Copeland said. “I’m from Colorado Springs. I care about this community and I want there to be quality venues here.”

Springs music venues

World Arena

3185 Venetucci Blvd.

Capacity: 7,343

Pikes Peak Center

190 S. Cascade Ave.

Capacity: 2,000

Stargazers Theatre

10 S. Parkside Drive

Capacity: 550

Black Sheep

2106 E. Platte Ave.

Capacity: 450

Venue 515

515 Manitou Ave.

Capacity: 180

Copperhead Road

3330 N. Academy Blvd.

Capacity: 200

The Loft Music Venue

2506 W. Colorado Ave.

Capacity: 150