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Monday August 19th 2019

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That's what she said

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What Do We Want Chautauqua to Be?


Picnic Shelter -- site of proposed new building. From (

As part of an ambitious, ten-year master plan, Chautauqua is proposing a new, 7,400 square foot building in back of the auditorium and an effort to promote more September-May and mid-week conferences and retreats. But critics question whether this proposal will generate more traffic and parking problems and negatively change the character of the venerable and beloved institution.

At a PLAN-Boulder forum on April 8, Susan Connelly, the executive director of the Colorado Chautauqua Association, presented the principal features of Chautauqua’s 2020 Plan, which she estimated would cost $10 million to implement. The most controversial aspect of the plan is the relocation of the picnic shelter from south to north of the auditorium and the construction in its place of a new building to be called Arbor House. It would contain restrooms for auditorium patrons and space for administrative and maintenance operations on the 3,700 square foot first floor, and restrooms, a commercial kitchen and meeting space on the 3,700 square foot second floor. Due to the slope of the site, about half of the first floor would be situated underground. Connelly said that Wolff-Lyon Architects has been engaged to design the new building, and that its appearance would be compatible with the other structures at Chautauqua.

Connelly characterized Chautauqua’s financial future as “stable,” but she also observed that the cost of maintaining and improving the grounds continues to rise. She said that the Association’s annual budget is about $3 million and that about $1 million of that is spent on the grounds. She noted that the Association owns 60 of the 99 cottages at the facility, and that rentals of them drop off substantially from September to May and also during mid-week. She indicated that the meeting space at Arbor House is intended to draw more people to Chautauqua to rent the cottages during the off-season, particularly mid-week of the off-season.

The other major elements of 2020 Plan are:

  • Rehabilitation of the Primrose building, which currently houses administrative and maintenance operations, so that it can be used to rent to customers
  • Burying overhead utility lines
  • Storm water drainage and road improvements
  • Dining hall improvements, so that it can be used comfortably year-round, and roof repair
  • An interpretive center
  • A comprehensive parking and traffic management plan
  • A new sidewalk along the south side of Baseline Road, a new or improved entry, and a bus and car pull-out area
  • Archives protection, management and greater public access
  • McClintock trailhead enhancements

"In the twilight on the Chautauqua" circa 1900 Carnegie Library

Another panelist at the forum, Allyn Feinberg, remarked that Chautauqua’s design guidelines, which she wrote with extensive public input, “Do not contemplate significant new buildings at Chautauqua.” She also noted that the more historically important a resource is, the more scrutiny should be given to proposals to change it; and she claimed that “Chautauqua is recognized as very, very historically significant.” She further commented that the views both into Chautauqua and out from it constitute a critical part of its character and that Arbor House would block views to the east. However, Feinberg contended that the principal issue raised by the 2020 Plan is not the design of Arbor House or its immediate impacts, but “what do we want Chautauqua to be.”

Another panelist, Francie Anhut, lives near Chautauqua on 12th Street and has served as a Chautauqua board member and chairwoman. She claimed that Chautauqua has effectively “annexed” the immediate neighborhood during July and August because of the car and bus traffic that it generates and intense demand for parking at times. She said that the neighbors have learned to tolerate these nuisances for two months of each year. But she expressed concern that the conference business intended for Arbor House would extend them throughout the entire year.  Anhut emphasized her sympathy for Chautauqua’s goal of strengthening and improving itself, but called for “balance” between Chautauqua’s interests and those of the rest of the community.

The fourth panelist at the forum, Susan Richstone, comprehensive planning manager for the City of Boulder, noted that the city owns the land in Chautauqua, which it rents to the Association for terms of 20 years, and that the Boulder City Council will study the implications of 2020 Plan on April 12  She observed that many parts of the plan, including Arbor House, would have to be reviewed and approved by the city’s landmarks, planning and parks boards, as well as open space and mountain parks staff and perhaps their board. But she asserted that the major question to be considered by the City Council on April 12 is whether the city should pause and reflect on whether there is “a shared community vision for the next 40 years for Chautauqua” and if so, what it is.

Richstone declared that “a lot of good work has already been done” and that the process of defining “a shared community vision” would not have to “start fresh.” She said that the city’s planning department has suggested a process lasting about two years and steered by a committee of stakeholders.

One of the Chautauqua cottage owners who spoke after the panelists asserted that he and his fellow owners are worried that Arbor House would attract weddings and parties with rowdy guests who would vomit and urinate on the grounds. This speaker advocated a large, stately short-term residence building, like the former Mohonk House in the Catskill Mountains, north of the auditorium and also a new entrance to Chautauqua east of the current one.

Connelly noted that Boulder’s Chautauqua is the only one in the nation which remains open year round. She also stated that it is one of only 21 National Historic Landmarks in Colorado.

The staff memo for Tuesday’s City Council study session is available on the city’s website.

The Colorado Chautauqua Association’s 2020 Plan is on their website.

The Chautauqua Cultural Landscape Assessment document is available here (20MB).

A National Park Service letter regarding the Chautauqua proposals is available here.

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