Red Alert

Red Rocks may or may not be sliding down the hill, but Friends of Red Rocks’ trust in the city is slipping away.

City officials also bemoan a shortage of concession stands. Concertgoers can get food and drink without making the same ascents or descents as those with full bladders, but the few stands at Red Rocks are usually so overwhelmed with customers that ticket-buyers are better off trying to sneak consumables past security. But if terraces are built on the southern slope, they could be larded with eateries that would make it easy for attendees to leave more of their dough at the show. As a result, Bernstein says, the people using Red Rocks would enjoy the time they spend there more even as they helped pay for the renovation. "We're looking at additional parking revenue and higher revenues from concessions as monetary sources. If we were able to raise, say, a million dollars in annual revenue that way, we could dedicate it towards a revenue bond and borrow against it for approximately $10 million to $12 million" -- roughly half the mayor's projected total for the project. And the other half? "We're working on that," Bernstein says.

Dollars and cents aren't motivating factors for Rutter, a property manager, Good, an art dealer, and the other Friends of Red Rocks. Rather, they're acting out of love for a place to which they pay tribute every other sentence or so. "I was out there recently," Good says, "and it was wonderful to watch people seeing it for the first time. They are just overwhelmed by the presence of the place." The Friends regularly organize nature hikes at Red Rocks and dream of buying land near the park, thereby preventing the demon encroachment of commercial development. "We could help the city in so many ways, including raising money, to do that," Rutter says, "if they'd offer us a seat at the table." (Hillyard responds that the city is already in the process of purchasing an eleven-acre parcel near the Red Rocks park entrance that will "be dedicated to open space.")

They see red: Friends of Red Rocks (from left) Ben Williams, Peggy Choate, Melinda Yeary, Scott Croushore, Tom Rutter and Greg Campbell.
David Rehor
They see red: Friends of Red Rocks (from left) Ben Williams, Peggy Choate, Melinda Yeary, Scott Croushore, Tom Rutter and Greg Campbell.

In a very real sense, FORR was the city's idea. The 1995 master plan called for the formation of a group of concerned citizens to be dubbed the Friends of Red Rocks, and after this year's meeting in March, more than a dozen of the attendees decided that was a fine idea. Since then, FORR's biggest successes have involved stopping what its members think are wrongheaded schemes, such as box seats, and slowing down others -- most recently, the southern terraces. The Friends favor new restrooms and concession stands, but they say that the top and bottom of the amphitheater can accommodate more than enough of them without negatively affecting Red Rocks from an aesthetic and historical standpoint -- and they believe that wiping out the grassy slope would do just that. "There's a lot of evidence that Burnham Hoyt wanted the slope to have natural vegetation on it," Good says. "And putting architecture in there will block views of the rocks from various points. It will create shifts in perspective that can't help but change the experience of going there. And if stabilization really is needed, a terrace isn't the only way to do it. From everything we understand, it can be stabilized and put back just the way it is without one."

Predictably, this argument hasn't cooled the city's enthusiasm for the terrace, just as the Friends' dislike of the lights-on-the-rocks notion hasn't put an end to it. Indeed, Theaters and Arenas' Hillyard seems to believe that the only thing wrong with illuminated advertisements is that the concept hasn't been adequately explained -- and she does her best to correct this oversight.

"We thought projecting the corporate logos was great, because we thought the technology matched the sereneness of the place," she says. "Those projections would only be visible to people who'd already read the name of the company on the ticket, and otherwise there'd be no banners or anything. We have to be realistic, and from the amphitheater point of view, money has to drive the facility in terms of maintaining it. So we thought that the lights were a creative and non-invasive way of generating revenues in order to keep Red Rocks the way it is."

Hillyard understands that such words may cause certain Red Rocks aficionados to react the same way an angry bull might to the sight of a Santa Claus suit, but she doesn't regret speaking them. Neither does she repudiate her comments in "City Hopes Renovations Will Dazzle Concertgoers," a July 23 Rocky Mountain News article that some critics saw as an attempt to seduce them with visions of "gourmet pizza and fine wine." In her words, "These kinds of things are important to a lot of people. And we'd like them to come to Red Rocks, too."

An earlier attempt to milk more cash from Red Rocks took place at the dawn of the Nineties, resulting in one of the best examples of near-amphitheater abuse.

Back then, Fey Concerts, headed by longtime Denver promotions impresario Barry Fey, was locked in a duel to the death with MCA, a corporation that had invaded Fey's turf. In 1988, MCA had built Fiddler's Green, an amphitheater that seats approximately 18,000, and allowed Fey to book concerts there for the next two years. But in 1990, MCA locked Fey Concerts out of its building and the fight was on, with MCA execs waving huge wads of cash at any act that would play Fiddler's for them, not Red Rocks (capacity: 9,000) for Fey. "I remember we offered Fleetwood Mac $150,000 to play two nights at Red Rocks, and Fiddler's countered with $250,000 for one night there," Fey says. "Because I knew them, they went with us, but I had to pay $200,000 for the two nights. Both shows sold out, but our profit, which should have been about $30,000, was only $6,300. And that was typical. We were winning most of the battles, but there was bloodletting on both sides."

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