Yates Tavern in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood doesn’t have a liquor license yet, but it just moved one step closer

A vacant former movie house in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood inched closer to reopening as a concert hall and entertainment venue thanks to a city regulator’s recommendations.

Developer Ari Stutz, co-owner of the nearly century-old Yates Theater building at 4979 W. 44th Ave., went before city licensing authorities June 13 seeking a liquor license and cabaret license for the would-be venue. On Monday, Kimberley Chandler, an independent city hearing officer, recommended that Denver’s department of excise and licenses approve both requests.

Stutz made a case that “there is a need and desire” in the neighborhood for what the Yates Theater would bring, Chandler found. He also “made a good faith effort to address matters relating to possible nuisance issues” through an agreement struck with the Berkeley Regis United Neighbors organization, she wrote in her recommendation.

The theater inhabits a part of the city that is seeing rapid redevelopment and developer interest akin to what neighborhoods like Highland and Five Points have seen over the last decade.

There was plenty of opposition at the hearing.

Eighteen people testified against awarding the licenses, according to Chandler’s report. Many of them argued there are enough bars and entertainment venues on nearby Tennyson Street When including signatures on petitions brought to the hearing, Chandler counted 293 people opposed to a liquor license for the theater. That compared to 314 people who testified or signed a petition in favor.

Taylor Hart-Bowlan, whose home is three doors down from the theater, argued that Stutz and his employees could not monitor the behavior of the 700 people or so who could pack into the venue on a night it might be hosting a concert. The wave of people that venue would bring into the neighborhood would negatively impact neighbors’ quality of life.

Among those who testified favor of the license was Shane Gay, owner of the Crowbar Tavern cater-corner from the theater at 4395 Yates St. The Yates Theater could compete with the tiny, 2-year-old bar for customers, but Gay said he felt it would add to the appeal of the neighborhood and boost business for everyone.

Niki Schwab, president of the Berkeley Regis United Neighbors, also testified in favor. She said she worked with former District 1 City Councilman Rafael Espinoza’s office to craft a good neighbor agreement with Stutz aimed at curtailing some of the concerns around a new concert venue opening in the area. An amended version of that agreement is available on the organization’ website.

Among the stipulations are that all live music will end by 11 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights and that theater management will “use its best efforts” to find 100 off-street parking spaces to serve the venue without putting pressure on the surrounding neighborhood. On nonshow nights, the Yates team will cap occupancy in its “Lobby Bar” at 150 people, per the agreement.

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Ultimately, Chandler sided with Stutz and supporters over “protestants” because she found the objections were based on speculation of what could happen and not facts.

The licenses aren’t in Stutz’ hands yet. Excise and Licenses Director Ashley Kilroy will make the final decision. There is no deadline by which she must rule on the requests, city officials said.

The Yates Theater first opened as a movie theater in 1926 and went through several other uses before most recently serving as a piano showroom.

Stutz co-owns the building with longtime Denver developer Ken Wolf. Together the two operate Downtown Property Services, a company that has been active in the River North Art District, including running popular food hall, Denver Central Market.

Stutz told The Denver Post in April that he envisioned the Yates Theater as a multi-faceted event space hosting weddings alongside concerts and other performances. He hopes to stage events there 150 to 175 nights per year, he said at this month’s hearing.

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