Longmont eyes old sugar factory as site for dual theater performing arts venue

Longmont "Sugar Shed" performing arts center conceptual design.

According to council member Marcia Martin, the concept of turning Longmont’s defunct and dilapidated sugar factory into a performing arts center basically fell into the city’s lap. 

The proposal came about a couple of months ago, while Council was still working on language for a ballot measure to ask voters this fall if they’re willing to take on a new property tax to fund such a venture. The venue was originally slated for development downtown at Boston Avenue and Main Street. But Council paused when the current developers of the sugar mill came to the city with a proposal to turn a former beet pulp shed on the property into two back-to-back theaters.  

So Council went to check out the plat, “two by two,” Martin says, and came to unanimous agreement that this must be the place.

“It’s almost cathedral-like on the inside — if you overlook the graffiti and the bullet holes,” Martin says. “The acoustics would be magnificent, and it’s structurally sound because it has these arching steel beams and a 6-foot thick concrete pad on the bottom.” 

One of the dual theaters would open out onto a postcard-worthy view of the Front Range as a 5,000 standing-capacity amphitheater, while the other would face into town and act as a 1,000-seat formal auditorium. The “Sugar Shed,” as city officials have dubbed the project, will cost city residents $45 million, garnered through a raised sales tax and mill levy increase, about $76 annually for a $500,000 home and a 0.06% bump in sales tax. A private consortium has agreed to run a capital campaign over the next five years to raise $35 million that it will donate to the city for the project. If voters say yes to the property tax, it will only begin if the donation is made. 

“So either there’s never a tax or the city gets this venue for half price — the taxpayers get this venue for half price,” Martin says. “[Taxpayers] won’t pay a dime on this until three years out at the earliest.” 

There seems to be broad support for the project, according to both Martin and Longmont Chamber of Commerce board member Chris McGilvray, who also serves as academic dean at Front Range Community College and owns Longmont Liquors on Main Street. 

“This has strong support across all demographics, from businesses to our education institutions,” McGilvray says. 

In addition to providing Longmont with a venue that can hold more than 300 people, McGilvray says the new performing arts center stands to be a robust economic driver. 

“Things like this really transform a community,” he says. “Let’s just talk about revenue. Think about the investment that a project like this adds to the community, raising millions of dollars through sales tax, through providing jobs, though generating revenue that gets reinvested locally. This is something we’ve needed for a long time now.”