Longform

The Rescue of the Mishawaka

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Grant has piercing green eyes and boundless exuberance. Her professional background is in commercial real estate -- she and her husband, Matt Hoeven, specialize in revitalizing bowling alleys -- but she has always had a passion for music. She founded the nonprofit SpokesBUZZ, which works to champion Northern Colorado bands, in 2008, and she'd talked to Jones over the years about the possibility of buying the Mish.

After his arrest, Jones e-mailed Grant to see if she and Hoeven were still interested. Family members, friends and colleagues urged them to walk away, telling them that being associated with the Mish would ruin their reputation and community standing. But they saw the Mish the way they see run-down bowling alleys -- full of potential -- and they bought it in December 2010. "It's a historic spot," says Grant. "It's been stained and clouded by a lot of stuff that's gone on around it, but it's definitely not the place's fault."

She and Hoeven worked on the property through the winter. They cleared away 120 cubic yards of trash, including fourteen abandoned toilets and several old mattresses; they renovated the kitchen, replaced old carpeting with hardwood floors and installed new electrical wiring. The house Jones was living in was converted to offices and a green room. They'd spent over $150,000 by the time they held a soft opening during the Super Bowl in February 2011.

They also offered all of the employees their old jobs back, even seeking out some who had quit because of Jones's erratic management. Louie Leber was one of the latter; he ran the kitchen for several years in the '90s, and he now serves as general restaurant manager. "They see the value of it, which is really obvious," says Leber of Grant and Hoeven. Grant took on the day-to-day management of the venue and quickly worked to solve the logistical hurdles facing the Mish. She rented four buses to run an inexpensive shuttle service from Fort Collins up to the venue, and further discouraged driving to shows by charging exorbitant rates for parking in the limited space there.

The service proved successful enough that Grant was able to buy several buses expressly for this purpose in 2013, and today it costs $10 for a round-trip shuttle ride (or $40 to park on site). The shuttles have developed enough of a culture and atmosphere that Grant says most people prefer them to the drive anyway. "I have friends in their late seventies who have come to shows," she says. "I offered them a parking pass, and they said, 'No, we'd rather take the shuttle.'"

Grant started bringing concerts back to the Mish in the summer of 2011, working carefully to regain the trust of the community and local authorities. She reduced the capacity of the amphitheater and booked a more cautious lineup than the venue had traditionally hosted. "We did what we said we were going to do," she says. "We cared and we showed up." That season, bands like Head for the Hills, Trampled by Turtles and Keller Williams brought crowds to the amphitheater without incident. At the end of the season, Grant opened an indoor stage in the dance hall and brought in local bands throughout the winter. By the time the Wood Brothers kicked off the 2012 summer concert series, the only reason the Mish was appearing in newspapers was because of the music.
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Mary Willson started contributing to Westword as an intern in the summer of 2014, focusing on the electronic music scene in Colorado.
Contact: Mary Willson