It's lights out for the Denver Repertory Theatre Company's new space, an 18,000-square-foot warehouse at 2162 Market Street that David and Bonnie Riley leased last November with the idea of putting in two theaters, artist studios and a coffee shop. Unfortunately, a neighbor had something else in mind.
Last month, the couple got a surprise visit from city inspectors who were following up on an anonymous call. What the inspectors found was a dilapidated building that they said was not zoned for the Rileys' project.
Before signing a three-year lease (first two months free), David Riley had checked the building's zoning on the Denver Assessor's Office website, which indicated it was B-8, a designation that would allow all the uses that the Rileys envisioned. But that info was incorrect. "The assessor's records are only about 95 percent accurate," says Julius Zsako, spokesman for Denver's Community Planning and Development department. Turns out that in 1999, the structure's then-owner was granted a Planned Unit Development variance that would accommodate a high-end loft project (which was never built) -- but disallowed any coffee shop or artist studios. And while a theater is still technically okay -- and Denver Rep successfully staged Gin Game in the building in February -- the city has closed the space until the Rileys can sort out the zoning mixup and get a certificate of occupancy.
In the meantime, they've had to rent two stages -- the 1896 Theatre on Tennyson Street and the Playwright Theatre on 17th Avenue -- for Edmond and Starters, two spring shows that had been set for Market Street. And the meter's still running there, too, at $3,500 a month. The Rileys had taken a second mortgage on their home to subsidize their dream, but at this point, Denver Rep is busted. "Every time we go down to the city, we get a longer list of things to do," Riley says. "We spent our last $1,000 on drawings, and now the city says we don't really need those drawings, they want other drawings.... The city is a multi-headed being, and none of the heads talk to each other."
Riley says he's making the best of a bad situation by offering his hard-won expertise to other would-be theater companies: "I've called everyone in town and said, 'If you're thinking about a space, I'll come look at the space and tell what you need to know to get permits, for free. Just buy me a cup of coffee.' I just wish there was some kind of a liaison between the city and the theater community to help prevent some of these mixups."
That liaison already exists, according to Zsako. "We take a look at the address and the zoning for that address and what is allowed," he says. "We're the only city in Colorado that has what we call a 'commercial walk-through counter.' If you're going to do a tenant-finish project that's less than $300,000 and doesn't seem to be too complicated, then you can meet with our engineering staff and discuss your project with them. There is no charge to sign in and ask a few questions and get some advice."
That free advice is too little, too late for the Rileys. Although they're hoping to get out of their Market Street lease, they're not giving up on the theater. "We are not going away ever, even if we have to produce in other theaters' spaces," Riley says. "I always envisioned myself like old Al Brooks and Maxine Munt of the Changing Scene -- living above their theater and being involved into their eighties. This building was going to be so awesome, with two theaters and all of the energy."
Still, the show will go on.
The apes of wrath: There's been more monkey business at Denver Animal Control. No sooner had the facility reunited Jack the monkey -- the pet given thirty days' quarantine after he bit a hotel maid during All-Star Weekend (Off Limits, March 31) -- with his out-of-town owner than nine more furry friends descended. Eight marmosets and one Java macaque, all of which are illegal in Colorado, were impounded after their owners got busted for drugs in Denver; the animals have been sitting at the shelter for several weeks awaiting transport to Arizona, where they're legal. And Animal Control won't be sorry to see them go.
"The marmosets have a 1protective odor,' which makes the aroma of eight of them quite unpleasantly overwhelming," says director Doug Kelley. "I am definitely ready for a monkey lull!"
On the Record
After 22 months, Metropolitan State College of Denver finally has a new president: Stephen Jordan , a Colorado native who's currently president of Eastern Washington University. Being Metro graduates, we here at Off Limits both love and loathe the institution, so we called Jordan to ask him about his plans.
Q: Do you even recognize the Auraria campus, compared to what it looked like when you were a University of Colorado at Denver grad student in the late '70s?
A: I'm actually seeing the evolution of the campus from before it existed to the time I was there -- when students were always having to dodge traffic because the one-ways were the ingress and egress into downtown -- to now, where there is this wonderful, enclosed campus.
Q: In your application, you indicated that curriculum reform was a top priority at EWU. Is that a priority at Metro?
A: This is an area where I need to sit down with the deans and the vice presidents and get a better understanding of the curriculum. But I think it is becoming more and more evident that people are looking for graduates who have skills that come from multiple disciplinary areas.
Q: You canceled a speech by CU professor Ward Churchill for reasons of safety and were criticized by EWU students and faculty. How do you define academic freedom?
A: I'd sure hate to have both my remembrance of my presidency here and my characterization coming into Metro being defined by this one issue. I do think academic freedom is important, and even in that case -- where we were concerned with safety issues -- we tried to find other means for him to make his presentation, such as interactive video, in order to preserve this issue of academic freedom.
Q: You're known for strolling EWU in the evening with your wife. What will you do to create that kind of connection here, since Metro is a commuter campus?
A: I have thought about that, and I don't know that I have an answer yet. What that was about is visibility, and we need to find a way to be visible in this community.
Q: What neighborhood will you buy a house in?
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A: We're looking at the corridor from LoDo down Speer Boulevard down to Cherry Creek, stopping at Colorado Boulevard. We don't want to get any farther from campus than that.
Q: Now for the most important question: What is your favorite drinking establishment in Denver?
A: I'm probably going to get the name wrong, and it's my favorite for a lot of reasons, going back to the fact that I played rugby for twenty years in Colorado, but the Campus Lounge.