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Flickering Hopes

A drive-in theater in Broomfield is on slippery ground.

During the frigid days of winter, 23-year-old Matthew John Cole can't help thinking about summer nights spent with his friends and family at the venerable Nor-West Drive-In in Broomfield. Unfortunately for Cole, many of his neighbors in that part of the Front Range are thinking of something newer and slicker, and that is chilling news to him. His favorite summertime haunt is about to be turned into an ice rink.

Plans for the Rocky Mountain Ice Centre, a two-rink, $10 million recreational and commercial complex, have already survived a preliminary public hearing that developer Bill Carlson calls "a tremendous success." Carlson crows that the new facility will become one of only two privately funded ice arenas on the Front Range. He is also quick to claim that the Rocky Mountain Ice Centre will create nearly 100 new jobs for the community. Negotiations for the purchase of the land that the Nor-West now occupies are under way, and the developers hope to have the state-of-the-art facility open by next fall.

That's bad news for Cole but good news for hockey players. Many feel that a new ice facility serving the Broomfield/Boulder area is long overdue. Penny Kipley, ice-rink supervisor at the University of Colorado Recreation Center in Boulder (the only rink in Boulder County), says the proposed facility is "absolutely a good thing." Kipley points out that "nobody in the entire Denver area has any extra ice. I turned down four people the other day who wanted ice time for their organizations."

Kipley says those especially in need of more ice time are youth groups such as Boulder Valley Hockey. Because of the lack of rinks, she says, youth leagues are forced to share the ice in order for all the players to get in their practice time. Those that get to share space should consider themselves fortunate, because all of the Denver-area youth-hockey organizations have extensive waiting lists. The University of Denver's youth-hockey program has a waiting list of 157 youngsters, and that's the shortest of any of the local facilities.

One of the DU program's organizers says the demand for ice time has grown so great that he has received "multiple financial offers" from parents to get their kids on a team. He adds that "what really scares the hell out of us is that women's hockey is now going to be an Olympic-medal event, and we just aren't prepared for the influx of women into hockey with the space that we now have available. A new facility, even as far away as Broomfield, would really help get more kids on the ice."

While Cole and his allies acknowledge the need for more ice rinks in the area, they think that the developer could just as easily use another parcel of land for the project in order to preserve what Cole calls "a part of American nostalgia."

"As far as I'm concerned," says Cole, "the drive-in is the way to see movies. The environment is so much more exciting." He rhapsodizes about the benefits of stargazing at drive-ins and points out that the Nor-West is the only first-run theater in Broomfield.

But Cole's dreams may not be based in reality. Drive-ins around the country are being demolished, and Nor-West owner William Holeshue is stuck on the bottom line. Holeshue has resigned himself to closing his drive-in even if the Rocky Mountain Ice Centre is built elsewhere. He cites expensive lease payments as the main reason. "This land is just too valuable to keep the theater open," sighs Holeshue. "That's just the way it is, just a part of progress."

Developer Carlson contends that an ice rink would enhance the area. "At the first neighborhood meeting," he says, "some of the people who lived in the subdivision behind the drive-in complained about rowdy kids. And when I was walking around the fence taking measurements, I could see all the trash and empty alcohol bottles and cans strewn around. I think this new facility will really help clean up the neighborhood."

Cole denies that the drive-in attracts an unruly crowd. "I've been going to the Nor-West since I was a little kid and my parents used to take me," he says. "In all the years I've been going to the drive-in, I've never seen any rowdiness or drinking. Maybe there is some noise from the cars, but it surprises me that any of the neighbors would complain. If they're worried about traffic and noise, I don't see how this new ice rink is going to alleviate any of that." Carlson plans to operate the Ice Centre from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. daily.

All of these arguments may be moot. Jim Black of the Broomfield Urban Renewal Authority says the Rocky Mountain Ice Centre is practically a done deal if it survives a January community meeting. "But you can never tell with these public meetings," he concedes. "Sometimes you think it's going to be hard to sell the neighbors on a proposal, and they have no problems. Other times you think it's a done deal, and they put up a fight."

Cole plans to do just that. He and his allies are planning a demonstration before the public faceoff in January in the hopes of arousing public sympathy. Cole, however, has another motivation to keep the drive-in open next summer besides cheap double features and celestial fireworks.

"I've never had a date," says Cole. "But if I ever get one, I want to take her to the drive-in. I hope the Nor-West stays open if just for that one reason alone.

 
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