Musicians help envision new amphitheater for Ruby Hill Park

Photo: Levitt Pavilion panel at the Oriental Theater
Levitt Pavilion Denver executive director Chris Zacher (second from left) heads a panel addressing questions regarding the forthcoming public venue.

Colorado music industry professionals gathered at Denver’s Oriental Theater Monday night to voice their wants and needs regarding the city’s plans to build a new 7,500-seat amphitheater in southwest Denver.

The new amphitheater, which is scheduled to open in July 2016, will host 50 free concerts every summer and serve as a platform to support Colorado artists.

Update Oct. 5, 2015: Levitt Pavilions Denver at Ruby Hill Park now expect to open July 2017.

For the project, the city of Denver is partnering with Friends of Levitt Denver Pavilions, a Denver nonprofit supported by a national foundation called Levitt Pavilions, which hosts free outdoor concert series nationwide.

The new amphitheater will be in Ruby Hill Park, a southwest neighborhood and the highest point of elevation in Denver. In 2006, the city completed a plan to revitalize the area.

The city is contributing $2 million toward construction. Funding has reached about 80 percent of the $4 million goal.

Monday night’s event took the form of a public panel.

The panelists included Levitt Pavilion Denver executive director Chris Zacher, Ben DeSoto, booker with the Denver underground music venue Hi-Dive, Lisa Gedgaudas of Denver Arts & Venues and Illegal Pete’s marketing manager Virgil Dickerson. Josiah Albertson, who advises many Denver musicians on finances, moderated the forum.

Money is the foremost issue

The biggest concerns among those present were around money.

Andy Guerrero, formerly of Denver hip-hop group Flobots, asked how the venue will compete with other Colorado music auditoriums to fill seats.

Zacher said that his organization has been building a financial infrastructure for the project over the past two and a half years.

Zacher said a third of operations funding will come from Levitt Foundation and grants. Another third will come from sponsorships by local businesses. And Zacher said the final third of the funding will come from individual donors and patrons.

Artists present at the forum also wanted to know how Levitt Pavilion Denver plans to promote events and pay the performers.

Zacher said performers will receive an average fee of $1,250 a show.

Addressing ethnic diversity

Photo: Levitt Pavilion Denver rendering
A rendering of Levitt Pavilion Denver

Because the Ruby Hill Park neighborhood is home to many ethnic minorities, Zacher also addressed concerns about how the new venue will impact the surrounding community.

Zacher said Levitt Pavilion’s programming will embrace a variety of cultures and art forms, such as music by Latino artists.

“We need to be responsible that we’re not coming in and taking over the community,” Zacher said. “All of our programming needs to speak to the diverse community that we are.”

A national network

Currently, there are six other Levitt venues across the nation, including in Memphis, Los Angeles and Westport, Connecticut. The Levitt organization also plans to build an amphitheater in Houston. That space is projected to open in 2017.

While construction on the 83-acre stretch of urban land in Ruby Hill is expected to begin in 2015, the city of Denver and its partners have yet to pick an architect for the project.

A city-run committee will select the architect.

Zacher said he is a part of the committee, along with a community member and representatives from Denver's Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments.

He was unable to disclose the names of the design firms being considered, but said he hopes to select one by the end of the week.

“Once we have a designer on board, we’ll take a lot of the ideas that we heard tonight from the music community, bring those to the architect and see how we can incorporate them,” Zacher said.