Raising the curtain on downtown Rifle

Chris Stockton Jr. of Battlement Mesa, second from left, uses a tool called a bull float to smooth cement while working with other employees of RodCo Concrete of Rifle outside a movie theater being built in Rifle.

If a freeze on new construction during an economic recession is the rule, Rifle is proving to be the exception.

With the assistance of a voter-approved sales-tax increase, the city’s downtown area has been revitalized within the last two years by the completion of a series of public projects, including a new Garfield County library branch, a new Centennial Park, a civic plaza and a parking structure.

Private investment is now taking its turn.

Las Vegas, Nev.-based Brenden Theatres will begin taking tickets at a seven-screen, stadium-seating movie theater next month. The opening will fill an entertainment niche for residents who currently have to make the 30-minute drive to Glenwood Springs to catch a flick. Beyond that, theater operators and city leaders hope it will spur additional development downtown and serve as a selling point for other businesses considering locating in Rifle.

“What we feel is it provides an amenity that makes our community more attractive,” said Julie Bjurstrom, manager of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. “When we are trying to recruit traditional industry-type businesses to our community, a lot of times what they’re looking for is amenities that can provide entertainment.”

The Rifle theater, built on the site of a former Valley Lumber building, is the first in Colorado for Brenden, which operates seven other multiplexes in Arizona, California and Nevada. Brenden hopes the theater also is the company’s first to sell alcohol, although the company first must clear some legal hurdles with the city.

The plan to sell alcohol at some point is part of an emerging industry trend aimed at reeling in adults.

“What’s right about the movie theater audience is teenagers come in droves. What’s hurting the theater industry is the adults,” said Walter Eichinger, Brenden’s vice president of operations. “Movie theaters are trying to get a little bit more alternative concessions and drinks to bring (adults) to a movie they might not otherwise see.”

In order to serve alcohol, Brenden will have to apply for an exemption to city codes that prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from being in an establishment where alcohol is being served. Hotels and restaurants are exempt from that prohibition, City Clerk Lisa Cain said.

Eichinger said Brenden likely will wait until February or March before applying for a liquor license and an exemption to be allowed to serve alcohol in the theater. Should the exemption be granted, Eichinger said there will be a number of regulations in place. No alcohol will be served before 2 p.m. or in G- or PG-rated movies, and moviegoers will be limited to two drinks.

“Our main objective is to educate people (about the potential sale of alcohol),” said Brian Epling, Brenden’s special events and marketing manager. “It’s not going to be a free-for-all or dive bar.”

Eichinger said Brenden began targeting Rifle as a possible location for a theater nearly two years ago as the company searched for small towns that lacked such an amenity. The city’s previous movie theater, Rifle Creek Theater, is in the process of being converted into a performing arts center.

The city owns the theater and the land on which it’s built. The city will lease the property to Brenden for 10 years, with two five-year options following.


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