Developer Ken Wolf likes to preserve older buildings rather than level them and rebuild. He’s done that with a number of properties, including six buildings in RiNo, one of which is now Denver Central Market; the Highland building that houses the Matador restaurant; and, more recently, a group of seven retail stores on the corner of 44th Avenue and Yates Street, just a few blocks east of Lakeside Amusement Park.
Next door, at 4979 West 44th Avenue, is the Yates Theater, which was built in the 1920s. Wolf bought it, along with the adjacent spaces, about three years ago.
“For a long period of time, we were looking for a brewery or a distillery or someone to take over the theater,” Wolf says. “Then I thought, ‘It’s a such a beautiful old structure. Maybe it makes some economic sense to just try and turn it back into a theater for the neighborhood.' That’s the direction we decided to go in.”
Wolf envisions the theater being using for concerts, comedy and TED Talks.
“As much as a music hall, I also see it as some sort of event center where people can have weddings or events,” he says. “And in a perfect world, if there was a school that wanted to put on a play, I would be glad to offer it to them just to have their events. It’d be totally cool for young kids to be able to put on a play in a theater.”
Wolf recruited Jerri Theil, who worked for Denver concert impresario Barry Fey and ran the Ogden Theatre and Bluebird Theater, to collaborate on the project.
“When Ken wanted me to come look at it, I was like, ‘What are you dragging me into?'” Theil says. “Looking at the outside, I wanted nothing to do with it. Then, when I walked in there, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.' It’s just too good of an opportunity to pass up. It’s one of those buildings that…you’ll never find a place like this in Denver ever again.”
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Wolf isn't the first person to think about revitalizing the theater. Frank Schultz, head of the Tavern Hospitality Group, was granted a liquor license five years ago in hopes of opening the Tavern Berkeley in the building, but ended up backing out. The building, which is nearly a century old, was once a movie theater and more recently home to a piano moving company.
Theil says she doesn’t want the theater to be used strictly as a music venue, because it’s tough to be competitive with AEG Presents and Live Nation. But she’d love to see the building restored into a theater in some fashion.
“If you put the money into it, it could be a really cool place," Theil says. "Coming from my background, if I’m going to do it, it’s going to sound great and it’s going to look great; it’s going to be a destination. We want people to come in and go, ‘Wow, we’re so glad that they restored this theater.’”
Before Wolf, business partner Ari Stutz and Theil move forward with the project, they’ll need to get their tavern liquor license with a dance cabaret approved. Wolf says the public hearing for the license, which was originally scheduled for December 19, has been pushed back to early 2019.
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Wolf notes that some people in the Berkeley-Regis neighborhood wanted to attend the meeting, which was originally slated to be in the morning. “We agreed to extend it into January for an evening meeting," he says. "It also gives us more time to meet with the neighborhood.”
Theil met with Berkeley-Regis United Neighbors earlier this month.
“I think the neighborhood meeting went great,” Theil says. “I think that they understand what we’re trying to do. I’m more than happy to come up with a good-neighbor agreement for them to understand what we’re trying to do and how we want to enhance the neighborhood. We don’t want to do anything to hurt the neighborhood.”