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Historic Preservation Month Feature: Cliff Theater in Wray

20 May


City: Wray, CO

Population: 2,300

Historic Structure: Yes, Colorado State Historic Registrar

Year Built: 1950

Public Non Profit: Cliff Cultural Community Center Inc.


The Cliff Theater was originally built in 1950 in a small town of 2,300 people in Northeast Colorado. For the last 60 years, this theater has stood as a landmark for the community in Wray, but in 2007 the owner realized that the theater was in jeopardy. The solution was to create a community center with 501c3 designation. The original board received a $25,000 financial commitment from a local trust for three years to get the Cliff Cultural Community Center Inc. up and running. They changed the business model and become a public non-profit, only to be jeopardized again five years later. In the fall of 2012 they learned that the movie industry would be going digital and they would have to do the same to survive.


In total it took about 14 months to gather enough money to fund a new digital projector. Three major donors, El Pomar, Gates Family and Kitzmiller Bales and Powell Trusts, contributed $85,000, and the Cliff Theater was able to raise another $45,000 through about two-dozen community fundraising events. These efforts were all small fundraisers like bake sales, donation buckets, silent auctions and letters.

Since May 2012 the theater has been run strictly by board members and volunteers. The community really rallied around the Cliff Theater because they understood that without the theater there were few options for family and youth to be entertained, without traveling more than 40 miles.


The Cliff Theater is not just a movie theater, but also a community center for Wray and Yuma. The Theater hosts events ranging from dance classes, youth group meetings, to birthday parties, and music shows.

Cliff Theater’s next steps are to further diversity the theater’s current programs by exploring licensing options for showing classic movies, developing the center as a live music venue, reinstating a children’s movie summer program, and adding programming from a digital broadcast network provider to show events like concerts and sports events.

For more information visit:


Historic Preservation Month Feature: Kress Cinema & Lounge in Greeley

13 May

Go Digital or Be Left Behind!
(Kickstarter Project Motto)

City: Greeley, CO
Population: 96,962
Historic Structure: Originally the Kress Department Store:
Year Built: 1920. Renovated in 2007 for theater.
Privately Owned

KressThe Kress Cinema & Lounge is a privately owned theater in historic downtown Greeley located within the historically renovated Kress Building that recently faced challenges imposed by Hollywood’s digital requirements.  The highly decorated, art deco department store was originally built in 1920 and with the historic preservation passion of the Thompsons, was renovated into a theater in 2007.  As a contributing structure to the Historic Downtown Greeley, the Thompsons saved everything they could, including the ceilings, floors and columns.

Shortly after the opening in 2008 the theater was faced with the challenges from Hollywood and digital movie production.  Unfortunately, at the start of the renovation work the standards set by digital movies were not clear and the theater did not conform to the new changes.  The theater needed to convert fully to digital technology by 2013, which is when Hollywood will no longer be producing 35mm film movies.   The Thompsons turned to the community and the Kickstarter program for help, as they feared they would be closing the theater in 2013.


In 2012 the theater launched a Kickstarter program after seeing the success from the Lyric Cinema Café in Fort Collins.  The Kickstarter program brought the community involvement to the forefront of the theater’s survival.  As the only independent movie theater in Greeley and a valued business, it was important to the community to work together to raise the money.  A goal of the Kickstarter was to not only upgrade to the digital technology but to show that this was an investment in the community.

Through varying incentives and donor memberships, the theater exceeded their goal of $80,000.  Partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce, DD Authorities, local newspapers, and social media also played a role in the fundraising success.  The Kress Cinema has successfully converted to digital technology and meets the standards set by Hollywood.  The theater recognizes the importance of the community and is available for parties, weddings, receptions, business meetings, live comedy, community forums, fundraisers and weekly local music.  With a restaurant and bar within the theater there are more events available and the ability for several events to be held simultaneously.

Check out the Kickstarter Website:


The Kress Cinema intends to support and work with the community and partner with nearby businesses to integrate events and activities within Greeley.  Additional money raised will be used to purchase spare parts, repair furniture and to upgrade the kitchen equipment.  The theater offers a memorable experience for their guests with a full-service restaurant and bar, intimate Art Deco lounges and a newly converted digital theater.

For more information visit:

Making the Most of Small Business Saturday

8 Nov

The National Retailers Federation (NRF) expects holiday sales to increase 4.1% this holiday season. Wouldn’t it be great to see sales increase in the small businesses that give your downtown its unique character? On November 24, small businesses across the nation will have their doors open, ready to kick-off the holiday season with Small Business Saturday, the main street alternative to the chaotic, big-box shopping that occurs on Black Friday the day before.

As a downtown leader, consider these tools to support your downtown merchants on Small Business Saturday, and encourage shoppers to focus their spending locally this holiday season.

1. Make an event out of it! Meet with the business owners to coordinate hours, plan discounts and specials, and cross-promote each other. If the weather is nice, work with shop owners to have a sidewalk sale, create a scavenger hunt for shoppers to visit all of the participating stores and get a free hot chocolate or coffee if they complete the hunt. Snap photos on your phones, and tag shoppers and stores on your downtown’s Facebook page. Be sure to promote your event in the local newspaper, online, and community announcements. Promote it as a FUN shopping experience to jump-start the holiday season. Have a local salon or day spa? See if they will offer discounted services to help shoppers relax during the day.

2. Inform business owners of promotional ideas. For Black Friday, shoppers wait in long lines for hours throughout the cold night all for that ridiculously amazing door-buster sale. Small businesses may not have the means to offer the extreme sales, but a few strategic promotions can help boost sales for the day and attract new customers. Small business owners may consider adapting these promotional techniques to attract customers:

  • Door-busters: Large retailers typically have a limited number of door-buster sale items that they sell at a loss–meaning the price is lower than the cost of goods sold. They do this as a marketing technique to get shoppers in the door to buy that sale item, and continue to shop while they are there. Consider a hot-holiday item for the year, and offer a really great sale for the first 10 customers who come through the door. Another take on door-busters is to offer discounts of 10-20% off entire purchases for the first 2 hours of the store being open.
  • Complimentary gifts: Shoppers love free, and will go out of their way to receive a free item. Offer a special where shoppers can receive a small gift for spending over $100 in your store. Make sure the free item is of minimal cost.
  • BOGO specials: Have a lot of inventory to move? Perhaps inventory that has stayed on the shelves for too long? Offer a “buy-one-get-one,” or “buy-two-get-one” free special to attract shoppers and make room for new inventory.
  • Buy now, spend more later: Offer a special for customers who make a purchase on Small Business Saturday to receive a discount on their next purchase from now through Christmas.
  • Collaborative marketing: Is there a cluster of businesses that complement each other? Work with the businesses to offer a discount to shop at another participating business (for example, if a customer makes a purchase at store #1, they receive a coupon for 10% off at store #2, half-off coffee at the bakery, or a free soda with lunch at the local eatery). Get all participating businesses together to create one large ad with Saturday-only coupons and deals at each participating business.

3. Use resources online: There are a variety of tools available to create your Small Business Saturday Campaign. Ready to get the ball rolling?

  • American Express has been a key player in encouraging and growing Small Business Saturday. Visit their website to find tools and tips for increasing involvement and activity around the holiday, and a marketing kit that can be created specifically for each business.
  • FedEx has also joined to support Small Business Saturday. They are holding a Small Business Grant contest for $25,000 to grow a small business. If you’re not entering your business, go vote on your favorite business to win the prize!
  • Constant Contact has developed a Small Business Saturday tool-kit to help guide businesses through promoting their sales and participation in the holiday. Use this toolkit to help guide you to promote your business, or to promote your downtown as a whole. This toolkit helps walk businesses through the process of setting business goals, determining what the audience or target market wants, and what will get them out to shop local on Small Business Saturday.
  • List your business for free on Independent We Stand’s website and get in front of customers who are eager to buy local.
  • The 3/50 Project is a movement to save brick and mortar establishments that line our main streets. This project encourages consumers to spend $50 at locally-owned businesses each month. This website also provides free resources for marketing and promotion of the project, and shopping locally.

4. Keep up the momentum! If Small Business Saturday was a success in your community, don’t stop! Keep up the great work and consider having a Shop Local or Shop Small  day every month. Build on the momentum from each successful event and make sure to keep the goal focused on supporting local, small, and downtown businesses.

New Creative Districts Legislation Passed: What Does It Mean?

13 Apr

Guest author Hilarie Portell of Portell Works explains the recently passed Creative Districts legislation and what it means for Colorado.

Creative enterprises are the fifth largest industry cluster in Colorado, and now local communities have a tool to help attract and retain them.

In late March, Governor Hickenlooper signed new legislation creating a statewide designation for creative districts. Communities that meet specific criteria will apply for the designation through the Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) division. Certified districts become eligible for technical support, limited state incentives and federal funding if it becomes available. An  application process should be in place by July 2012.

The creative district designation does not have any state fiscal implications or property requirements, such as tax credits or design guidelines. However, it could provide communities with a new economic development tool to build local support and targeted strategies for a creative district.

House Bill 11-1031 defines a creative district as a “well-recognized, designated mixed-use area of a community in which a high concentration of cultural facilities, creative businesses, or arts-related businesses serve as the anchor of attraction.” Creative districts may have multiple vacant properties in close proximity that would be suitable for redevelopment and may be home to both nonprofit and for-profit creative industries and organizations.

The legislation builds on a 2008 report by the Colorado Council on the Arts (now Colorado Creative Industries) on the state’s “creative economy.” It found that 186,251 jobs in Colorado are associated with creative enterprises and talent, with 2007 earnings totaling $5 billion. Importantly, creative enterprises are defined as “any company for which the primary value of its products or services is rooted in its emotional and aesthetic appeal to the customer.” This includes 69 industries in five categories: design, film/media, heritage, literary/publishing, and visual arts/craft. The categories comprise traditional arts as well as industrial and green design, interactive media, architecture, home furnishings, recreational products, local brewing operations and more. The full report is available at

Learn more about this legislation and its implications for your community at the May 11 DCI Development and Improvement Districts Forum. The DIDs forum is open to DCI members and will held from 2-4 p.m. at the Colorado Municipal League (1144 Sherman Street, Denver). Visit website for details and registration information.

Hilarie Portell helped draft and advocate for the creative district legislation. She is principal of Portell Works, a community and economic development consulting firm in Denver.

Economic Restructuring: Business Attraction & Retention in Colorado

17 Nov

Did you miss the November Downtown Institute: Economic Restructuring? Downtown Institute featured speaker and guest blogger Hilarie Portell of Portell Works blogs about business attraction and retention strategies recently implemented in communities across Colorado.

Numerous communities were spotlighted for their creative approaches to business attraction and retention at the November 5 Downtown Institute in Monte Vista. In a difficult economy where nobody is taking risks, here are some ways you can use local resources and talent to “grow your own.” 

Business Attraction

Financial incentives

  • The City of Aurora East End Arts District offers financial incentives for specific types of businesses to locate in the district. The grants, which average about $50,000, must be used for “bricks and mortar” projects and matched by the business. Source of the grants is Community Development Block Grant funds.
  • Monte Vista has an economic development assistance policy that offers loans and city support for new and expanding business.  Incentives may total up to $50,000. Small low interest loans are offered by a local bank as part of their Community Reinvestment Act obligation. City support may include waivers or reduction of various fees, as well as property tax rebates.
  • Many communities are exploring community-owned business models, and financing through Community Investment Institutions. Would your community leaders invest in a downtown incentive or business?

Multi-Tenant Non-profit Centers

  • The Denver Housing Authority has created a multi-tenant nonprofit center in their Benedict Park Place community. Nonprofit organizations can fill downtown space, provide needed community services, create foot traffic and generate revenue for property owners.

Business Retention


  • The City of Brighton offers small business assistance, job training, early childhood education and affordable healthcare services at the Brighton Learning and Resource Campus.
  • Local libraries can be an invaluable source of information and training for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The Town of Parker librarian is “embedded” with the downtown development group. She offers access to marketing databases, business research, and connections to business counselors and training. Involve your local librarian in your downtown effort.
  • Many communities are putting business resources on their websites. Castle Rock’s Economic Gardening program and Boulder’s Business Portal offer step-by-step instructions for new or expanding businesses, as well as research tools and training opportunities. 


  • Shop Local. The Town of Castle Rock’s “Rock Your Dollar” campaign generated $1.5 million in local spending in a two-month period. Shoppers earned cash cards for every $500 spent at local businesses ($50 card) or every $1,000 spent ($100 card). The Town provided $11,000 for the cash cards. 

Streamlining Processes

  • Castle Rock and Monte Vista have both streamlined approval processes for new development or businesses.  How many steps do business owners have to take to set up shop in your district? If you mapped it, could you work with those on the inside to streamline?

Hilarie Portell  is passionate about creating and revitalizing urban places. She has worked in public relations, marketing and management for a variety of complex projects for nearly 20 years and is founding principal of Portell Works.