The troubled Colorado Symphony Orchestra hopes to use old money for a new hall

In 2007, Denver voters gave the thumbs-up to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's request for $60 million in bonds to help renovate Boettcher Concert Hall. The symphony would have to come up with an additional $30 million on its own in order to finance the total project, which was estimated to cost about $90 million. The bond was expected to be used within five years — meaning by the end of 2012 — and was part of the much larger $550 million Better Denver Program, which included improvements to roads, parks, libraries and other cultural sites such as the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Built in 1978, Boettcher was the first concert hall built in the round in the United States. The two-part renovation would include the demolition and reconstruction of the concert space, as well as a total replacement of the seats and carpet. An additional 37,000 square feet would be added to the lobby, including more restroom, beverage, dining, educational and event space. Also planned were upgrades to the building's accessibility and improvements to its acoustics. At the time, the city was eyeing a May 2009 groundbreaking for the project, which was expected to take more than a year.

Clearly, that didn't happen.

"That process ran into the recession and made it very difficult with the fundraising issue," says Jim Copenhaver, president and chief executive of the CSO. "It doesn't make sense to do the big renovations."

Those fundraising issues came to a head this year when, despite record ticket sales, the orchestra ran into a $1.2 million cash shortfall at the end of its 2010-2011 fiscal year. More cash shortfalls are expected for the 2011-2012 season. The problems convinced the orchestra to cancel half of its concerts from October through mid-December, while the musicians took a major pay cut in September and October. More than twenty boardmembers, along with some major donors, left the orchestra at the time, too. But the orchestra insists that it's getting back on track, even adding spring shows.

"We're going to come out this fiscal year with a balanced budget," Copenhaver says.

However, it doesn't look like the symphony is going to be able to raise the $30 million, so CSO's management is hoping to convince the city to allow it to use the $60 million in bond money for a lesser renovation. "We've entered into discussions, but it's very early," Copenhaver says.

If the city does approve of the changes, the next step would be to hire an architectural firm to figure out what the CSO can do for two-thirds of what it had initially planned to spend. That could happen early next year.