The hills around Red Rocks Amphitheatre are alive with the sound of rumbling, beeping and high-pitched sawing as crews furiously work to finish upgrades before the 2024 concert season starts on March 30.
The historic Morrison venue, which the city of Denver owns and operates, sits in a 738-acre park and is open daily to tourists, as well as those strong enough to climb its 250-plus rows of seats and concrete steps for exercise.
With a record 200 or so concerts — and dozens more private and non-music events — planned for the season, the pressure’s on to finish before the ground thaws and music lovers, many of them from out of state, begin streaming into the grounds.
“The weather is definitely a challenge,” said Tad Bowman, who has been venue director at Red Rocks for the last quarter-century. “If they’re moving dirt around and it gets too wet, it has to dry out. When we had that deep freeze, the ground was so frozen we had to bring in these ground heaters just to do the work.”
“A bigger issue than weather is the schedule,” said Brian Kitts, director of marketing for Denver Arts & Venues, the city agency that manages Red Rocks. “If you don’t get to start until Nov. 12, you’ve got a very short off-season and a lot of work to finish in four or five months. That’s not normal.”
Phase 1 of Red Rocks’ rolling renovation project is expected to be fully completed by mid-May, with a number of improvements that guests will immediately notice, and some they won’t.
Here’s a rundown from a recent visit to the 9,500-seat venue:
- The new Evolve magnetometer system, which has been in place at Denver’s Buell Theatre, will replace wands and bag searches to detect potential weapons, leading to faster entry, Bowman said.
- Various rooms in the Visitor’s Center at the top of the venue are being completely gutted or redone, from the 100-capacity Ship Rock Grille (which will now feature an inside-outside bar and outdoor-dining pergola) to the Rock Room rental area, hallway gallery of photos and shows, and Theater room that contains signed guitars, posters and other artifacts from artists who have played there. Visitors can expect interactive tech upgrades to the exhibits.
- In the wide kitchen, which has been moved to accommodate the new layout, electric induction cooktops have replaced gas grills and appliances. All gas lines have been removed, Bowman said.
- Handsomely upgraded bathrooms in the Visitor’s Center, as well as a new family restroom, join the newly gender-neutral bathrooms at the bottom of the venue.
- Crews are extending and adding more sidewalks around the Lower South 1 parking lot. New sidewalks in the Upper South and Upper North lots also connect with ongoing road improvements. Lower South 1 features a new set of stairs to climb the hill from lot to sidewalk, leading to the Trading Post and south venue entrance.
- A handsome new retaining wall made of the same flagstone and sandstone as the rest of the amphitheater, mined in Lyons, buffets the soil barriers of the parking lot.
- To complement the sidewalks — intended also to prevent people from having to walk down the middle of the road to get to their cars — new light poles in the parking lot, and along the street, will brighten formerly dark areas.
- Slopes in parking lots and along ramps have been adjusted, some by mere inches, to increase accessibility and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. New parking spots are also being added on the south side for those with disabilities. The Top Circle, which is reserved for disabled patrons on show days, is being ripped out and redone, with lighted rails and easier-to-navigate slopes and curbs.
- In the south ADA parking lots, two new ADA-compliant bathrooms are being added (trees had to be removed for that, unfortunately).
- The top plaza, formerly dim during shows, will feature lights hung from poles along the retaining wall.
- Stormwater management is redirecting water flows through narrow ditches along the shoulder, instead of washing out the soil that formerly collected there.
The improvements will start up again in fall 2024 as Phase 2 kicks off, but the project is more of a rolling concern, Bowman said, with the venue constantly being upgraded to meet new patron needs and city and state regulations.
“There will still be a little bit of work after the season starts due to frozen-ground and asphalt issues, but we’re trying to pull all of this off in the next few weeks,” Bowman said as he stood on Red Rocks’ stage under a $6 million roof that was installed in 2021. “It’s always a climb.”
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