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9/25/2003

Visions of movie, restaurant grandeur

By Quentin Young
Times-Call News Group

LAFAYETTE — Eight restaurants and a 500-seat theater, all in one structure.

That’s what Dave Schneller, owner of the Lafayette Tech Center, is planning to develop at Coal Creek Drive and South Public Road.

The development still lacks a name. And the restaurants it will feature have yet to be determined.

But designs for the site are maturing and Schneller would like to break ground by next spring.

The proposed theater is intended to be the new home of the Peanut Butter Players, the respected children’s professional acting company in Boulder.

The company’s producer and director, Jo Anne Lamun, said that with a move to Lafayette she wants to expand her operation to include an adult dinner theater company and even a comedy club.

“It’s a very ambitious plan,” she acknowledged.

Schneller describes the proposed development as an “interior restaurant mall.”

Besides the theater, it will likely include eight spaces for restaurants and four for retail shops. Each space would comprise two floors and a patio, or about 5,000 square feet.

What makes the design unusual is that the restaurants and stores would all face into a central, enclosed pedestrian court.

Diners on the patios would have ample opportunity to watch passersby.

“That’s what this is about — people watching,” Schneller said. “That’s the best form of entertainment out there.”

The concept is not new. Schneller said it was first tried in Las Vegas. He experienced it in San Marcos, Calif., and thought it a good idea.

The mall will be enclosed by a 55-foot high ceiling.

“The reason we’re going to enclose it is that we can climate control it and have it open year-round,” Schneller said.

He expects the project to cost in excess of $10 million, but said this could be a low estimate.

He has enlisted the services of Bill Caruso, whom he says is with a nationally-known consulting firm that specializes in the planning and design of food service facilities.

The firm has worked on facilities at Invesco Field, the University of Colorado and the Colorado Convention Center, said Schneller.

Caruso will help Schneller attract the right restaurants for his project.

Schneller said he’s looking mainly for out-of-state chains that offer a “moderate-priced, casual sit-down” experience, of which he believes there is a shortage in Lafayette.

He said restaurants often form clusters naturally.

His project will be a deliberate cluster that will feature the advantages of minimal distance between storefronts, shared parking, joint marketing and people-watching.

He wants the site to become a regional destination, and the theater would promote this goal.

The Peanut Butter Players currently hold classes at 2475 Mapleton Ave., in Boulder. But the company, lacking its own theater, performs at either the Boulder Theater or Boulder High School, Lamun said.

The proposed Lafayette facility would give the company a permanent home.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be a part of this whole complex,” Lamun said.

Project planners recently won a zoning variance from Lafayette officials allowing the proposed theater to be built to a height of 75 feet, which is required to house set changes.

Lamun is looking to raise $3 million to establish the theater.

She said it would be available for rent and would accommodate musical, touring and school productions.

Lamun is tentatively calling the adult dinner theater company she wants to establish the “Harlequin Players.”

Schneller said he has already had a pre-application meeting with city staff members.

He expects to submit to the city a site plan and architectural review within a week.