The Riverwalk Theater in Edwards will soon be more than just a theater. On Tuesday, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners approved an amended proposed use development for the property that will allow property owner Grant Smith to expand it into a four-story building, add 18 residential units and a restaurant while shrinking the theater space to diversify building usage.
“Vertical development along with a reconfiguration and investment into the existing theater has been something that we have been pursuing since we acquired the property in 2018,” Smith said. “The Riverwalk Theater will continue to be the heart and soul of The Theater Block and this project will allow a re-investment into the business that has been serving the community since 1995.”
The amended PUD enables Smith to increase the floor area of the building from 12,509 square feet to 32,551 square feet by adding three floors of residential space on top of the theatre, which increases the height of the building from 35 to 55 feet. This is the maximum height recommended by the Edwards Area Community Plan.
The residential floor area will consist of 18 housing units, 5 of which will qualify as affordable housing units and be restricted upon development. There is also the potential for additional units to be made into affordable housing units in the future.
“We haven’t ruled out the opportunity to come back and talk to the housing authority or staff about doing some more affordable restrictions on the units, not as a requirement but just as something that might be an opportunity,” said Dominic Mauriello of the Mauriello Planning Group.
The first floor currently has four theaters with 600 seats, taking up 5,200 square feet of space. The new layout will reduce the number of theaters from four to three, as well as shrinking the size of the theaters to offer a total of 225 seats. The total square footage of the theater space will be a quarter of the current usage, at 1300 square feet.
Reducing the theater space will allow for the addition of a new restaurant on the ground floor with seating for around 150 people.
“We believe the mixed-use commercial concept seen throughout The Riverwalk at Edwards to be a highly successful concept,” Smith said. “We hope to deliver high quality residential units while increasing the commercial vibrancy of The Theater Block, creating a space that feels authentic and adds value to the community.”
Concerns about impact
Two community members and local business owners, Chris and Nicole Heiden, showed up at the hearing on Tuesday to express their concerns about the new development. The Heidens are the owners of Main Street Grill, a restaurant in Riverwalk that is located just north of the Riverwalk Theater.
They said that they felt the lessees and the public have not been actively informed about what is being proposed for the building, and that communication has been unclear or only concentrated on the property owners.
Todd Williams, the community manager of the property owner’s association in Riverwalk, said that the association has followed all of the public engagement requirements set out by the county for a PUD. Information was distributed through the building managers and has been a part of the association’s board agenda for 18 months, and Smith said that he has been discussing the project publicly for years.
Despite meeting the county requirements for public outreach, the Heidens said that they had not known the scope of the development.
“I think a lot more businesses would have shown up, a lot more residentials would have shown up, had they had a direct email saying, ‘There is a proposal of a large — very large — building about to be built’,” Nicole Heiden said. “This is something very new, very different, and it would have been nice to have been informed on that.”
The two expressed concerns about the parking situation, which they said is already a pain point for their customers. The expansion and diversification of the building does not require the addition of new parking spaces. The development brings the parking demand to 997 spaces, which is accommodated by the existing 1,002 spaces available between the surface and underground parking lots.
They questioned the 2.5-year construction plan, noting how noise and traffic generated by the project will have a direct impact on local businesses. There was also concern that the increased height of the building would throw shade on the front deck of their restaurant and surrounding establishments, further detracting from their current business model.
Despite these concerns, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the proposed use development on the grounds that it met all of the county requirements and has been thoroughly vetted by staff. The commissioners expressed hope that the property owners association would work with the public to lessen the negative impacts of the project, but that such action is not the responsibility of the commissioners themselves.
“It doesn’t feel very good, because it feels like there’s some potential damage to neighbors,” said commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “I’m hopeful that that can be worked out to be to everyone’s benefit, but as far as our standards for a PUD amendment, there are 17 of them and I believe we have met those.”
“It’s not within our purview, and maybe this has helped to illuminate some of what the public is feeling other than the folks who signed on to do this,” commissioner Jeanne McQueeney agreed.
With the amendment approved, Smith will need to obtain a building permit from the county before beginning construction on the project. Timing for this next step and a starting construction date has yet to be determined.