The start of two music venues under one roof is quietly blossoming in Colorado Springs’ former Blue Star restaurant.
Ivywild School talent buyer Marc Benning and Blue Star Group owner Joseph Coleman are redeveloping the 8,000-square-foot building at 1645 S. Tejon St., where the upscale eatery was until it closed in October 2017.
The smaller venue, the Side Door, opened in the Ivywild neighborhood last September and has drawn 80 to 100 people to several concerts. The larger Orion could open by August, along with a revamped Side Door. The Orion, touted as “the future of live music in Colorado Springs,” will be a standing-room-only space for up to 850 people.
Benning said he’s been dreaming of a concert space for a bigger crowd and bigger bands, and Coleman suggested redoing the cavernous Blue Star.
The concept was tried in the early 2000s, but the demand and demographics didn’t support it, Benning said. The Black Sheep on Platte Avenue is a standing room-only venue for up to 450. But the Orion will be bigger and will feature different types of bands.
“I think we’ve reached critical mass in the last five years. ... Most people I’ve talked to about it seem to really want this to happen,” he said.
The Side Door has featured up-and-coming bands, generating “a lot of good energy without any advertising,” Benning said.
Sarah Mishler, marketing director for Blue Star Group, said the “pop-up shows” were designed to build a community for the new venue.
The Colorado Springs restaurant group also operates La’au’s Taco Shop, Ivywild School, Ivywild Kitchen and the Principal’s Office. It closed Nosh restaurant and the Blue Star in 2017 because it was time for both to evolve, Mishler said.
The cost of renovations hasn’t been determined. In addition to using traditional financing, the partners advertise crowdfunding on the Orion’s site. Those who donate $25 get a beer koozie with venue logo; $100, a logo T-shirt and swag pack; $250, two show tickets, a T-shirt and swag; $1,000, a “platinum pass” with benefits including a special backstage pass to select shows; and $20,000, an “all access pass,” including lifetime tickets.
Benning looked to venues elsewhere for inspiration, such as Schubas Tavern in Chicago, where the “bar is great and the food is good,” and the Showbox in Seattle, a “simple room with a great line of sight to the stage,” he said.
Plans for the Orion include a new facade with classic marquee over a garage-door entrance on Tejon, through which visitors will access a foyer, bar and merchandise area. The show space will feature gradual tapering to the stage, with tiers of audience levels 3 feet above. The green room and stage will be at the rear.
“It’s kind of like a great movie theater. I would call it a ‘rock room,’” Benning said.
The nearby Ivywild Gym at the Ivywild School, which Blue Star Group opened in the summer of 2013, is more of a “community space” or “town hall,” with a capacity of 250. About two acts a month perform there.
“It’s a great space that’s good for acoustic shows. But for a young rock ‘n’ roll band, it’s a little underwhelming,” he said. “With the Orion, we’ll be able to say ‘yes’ to a lot more things.”
He foresees starting with about four shows a month at the Orion, which will have “a good, warm bar with good food, affordable options and liquor. It won’t be craft cocktails.”
The Side Door now is one room with a bar. After renovations, it will be a “great small room for touring bands, a curated stage for shows four times a week.”
It will be open seven days a week with a neighborhood-style bar, limited menu and a jukebox to entertain on nights without live music.
Benning said plans are to close the Side Door in mid-April and commence construction there and at the Orion through the summer. He said the partners likely will build a parking structure, too.
About 50 people attended a community meeting Wednesday to learn about the project, which is in the pre-application stage, said Ryan Tefertiller, a city urban planning manager. “The bulk of the conversation” was about parking concerns, he said.
“That’s actually the primary application they would have to submit if they decide to proceed with the project,” Tefertiller said. “The site has inadequate off-street parking to meet city code.”
The developers need about 120 parking spots but only have 27, he said. A formal public comment period will begin after an application is submitted, but neighbors with questions can contact Tefertiller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It seems to be the right time for this,” Mishler said. “Colorado Springs is the right size. Driving to Denver is getting exhausting for people who want to go see music.”
Benning foresees bands coming to the Orion from shows at Denver’s Ogden, Gothic and Bluebird theaters, and bands from Denver’s Hi-Dive or Larimer Lounge booking the Side Door.
“We want the bands to feel good about the show,” Benning said. “There’s a lot of places out there that are ‘pennywise and pound foolish.’ They cut corners. The staff is grumpy. The sound people are late. We want to have the exact opposite.”
Benning said he toured more than 15 years with 34 Satellite in the Midwest, so he knows what it’s like to be treated well — and poorly — at venues. He plans a well-appointed green room with washer, dryer and showers, an on-stage space for convenient unloading of equipment, and a killer sound system.
“It’s such a simple concept. You provide a good space and treat people fairly,” Benning said. “If you’re in a band, this will be your oasis. ... We hope that people will aspire to get to this stage.”
The size of the staffs needed still is being determined. But when hiring starts this summer, Benning said he wants people who understand hospitality, have empathy for the bands and “have music and the arts as a motivating factor in their lives.”