Crossroads Theater played host to many performance and community events in the past decade since opening in Five Points in 2007, but now the interior of the venue at 2590 Washington Street is gutted, making way for office space after a long struggle to pay the rent as a performing arts and community space.
The theater had switched lease-holders four times over the past ten years. "It's become a real anchor around our necks," says Dennis Malone, operations manager of Hope Communities, the affordable-housing nonprofit that has to cover the mortgage of the building that held Crossroads.
In late April, Hope Communities gave Jaryd Smart, director of operations for the theater group Crossroads Creative and the only founder still involved with the group, notice that it would be taking over the space. Hope has since signed a three-year lease with the ZoZo Group, an outdoor marketing firm whose owner hails from the Five Points area.
Westword covered the complicated history of Crossroads in a feature story last summer. Theater aficionado Kurt Lewis funded and founded the theater in 2007, right before the recession. Suffering both economically and from complications of Parkinson's, Lewis relinquished the theater to what is now Denver Arts & Venues. The city agency, which is used to dealing with much larger spaces, struggled to manage the 100-plus-seat theater, and finally surrendered the venue's lease to a church congregation. At the start of 2016, the former pastor's step-daughter and several friends founded Crossroads Creative, with the goal of bringing theater and other performing arts back to the space. For a variety of reasons, including chronic illness, the other founders dropped out, leaving Florida native Smart to manage the space, which "grew very close to my heart, and I tried my damnedest," he says.
Under Smart, Crossroads tried to fund itself a variety of ways. Its website promoted rentals by the quarter-hour as well as 24-7 access, and there was even talk toward the end of forming a collective, Smart says. In the meantime, the venue hosted comedy groups, a Family Leadership Training Initiative, children's theater, low-key meetings and various performing arts. While still selling out shows — Smart cites the popular Broadsided comedy act, which performed at Crossroads through December — the venue didn't have a big or consistent enough crossover audience to cover its rent.
As a result, Crossroads' future had hung in the balance for some time, shifting from three-month leases to a month-to-month rental, when new upper management at Hope Communities reassessed the financial situation and, based on the monetary losses, decided to pull the plug. "Dennis Malone was trying to afford us every possibility he could," says Smart.
But by the end of April, Malone admits, "It just got to the point when we couldn't do it." Under Hope Communities, the venue hosted a few more shows before it officially shuttered for good on July 14.
Running any kind of performance space in this city isn't easy, and the short-term lease was an obstacle in an industry that tends to secure performance spaces well in advance. Malone says that Smart and his business partner, former Crossroads artistic director Erik Rodne, had lots of ideas to secure revenue, but their plans were "pie-in-the-sky-type things" that just "never came through."
On top of that, the ongoing development of Five Points made the address increasingly desirable while displacing residents that Crossroads had counted on. Asked if he faults gentrification for the closure of Crossroads, Smart replies, "100 percent." The theater had provided a community space for people who were being priced out of the area where they'd grown up, and while newcomers might "pay lip service to community," he says, they didn't support Crossroads by filling seats at events.
Five Points is "being Columbused," Smart adds. "It's being transformed."
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Malone's take: Crossroads was a "good idea in principle, but it didn't work out as practical" for the nonprofit to continue to finance.
And so the board of Hope Communities chose ZoZo as the next tenant of the space, because "they wanted to be part of Five Points' rebirth," says Malone. And even Smart agrees that's something of a silver lining.
Still, inside what Smart calls "one of the last creative spaces that was held just for people" in Five Points, today metal dangles in ribbons from overhead poles and the flooring is in chunks. Taped to the front door, a neon paper sign reads "CONSTRUCTION ZONE."