By Mark Harden, News Director, Denver Business Journal

The city of Denver celebrated a groundbreaking Thursday at the site of what is to be a public outdoor concert venue in south Denver's Ruby Hill Park, developed with backing from a nonprofit foundation.

The planned 7,500-capacity Levitt Pavilion Denver -- which has been in the works for several years -- will host 50 free performances each year, officials said, plus possibly additional shows scheduled by outside promoters, schools and nonprofits as well as private events.

“Having access to the arts right in our neighborhoods is a wonderful way to bring new vibrancy into the lives of our residents,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who was joined by District 7 Councilman Jolon Clark at the ceremony. “Not only will Levitt Pavilion bring live music entertainment and investment to the local economy, it [also] creates another place for the community to come together in one of Denver’s most beautiful parks.”

Design renderings by Studiotrope Design Collective — which was selected as architect in 2014 by a design review committee — show a structure of sharp angles in a grassy bowl backed by a line of trees.

Design renderings by Studiotrope Design Collective — which was selected as architect in 2014 by a design review committee — show a structure of sharp angles in a grassy bowl backed by a line of trees.

The planned amphitheater is located along the South Platte River between West Florida and West Jewell avenues across the river from Overland Golf Course.

The venue will feature a 1,500-square-foot stage flanked by "a customizable 'canvas' backdrop unique to each performer," the city announced last year. "The stage platform is oriented to take full advantage of the natural bowl, offering spectators peak viewing and acoustical experiences from a wide-range of locations."

The audience would sit on the lawns facing the stage. An adjacent plaza will offer food trucks, concessions and restrooms.

Levitt Pavilion Denver is being developed through a partnership of the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, a private family foundation based in Los Angeles, with the city and county of Denver, which last year committed $2 million from the Better Denver Bond Program, passed by city voters in 2007.

The facility will be owned by the city and operated by a local group, the Friends of Levitt Pavilion Denver. The local group's CEO, Chris Zacher, has run Denver's City Park Jazz program for several years.

“Levitt Pavilion Denver is working on a mission to increase access to the arts in the Denver community”, Zacher said. “Mayor Hancock and his administration have been supporters of Levitt Pavilion Denver since we began this journey in 2012. We are grateful for his support, the City of Denver’s support and for all of the people who worked to make this dream a reality.”

Completion of the project has been pushed back from the original target date of mid-2016 because of the slow pace of fundraising. It's now slated for completion in summer 2017.

Besides the $2 million in Denver bond funds, the Levitt Foundation committed $400,000 in seed money, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in 2014 awarded a $100,000 grant for the project, and the Boettcher Foundation gave $150,000.

O.penVape, a Denver company that makes vaporizers and cannabis oil products, has signed on as "presenting sponsor" of the venue.

Denver will be one of several cities to host a free outdoor concert venue backed by the Levitt Foundation. Other cities with Levitt Pavilion venues are Los Angeles and Pasadena, California; Arlington, Texas; Memphis; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and Westport, Connecticut.

For years, Denver has been looking for ways to revitalize Ruby Hill Park, which it considers to be underutilized. The park is popular for sledding in the winter; recent improvements, including a hilltop shelter, picnic areas, playgrounds and a giant sundial, have been aimed at drawing more visitors in warm-weather months.

“The Levitt Pavilion Denver is ‎a key component of the Ruby Hill Park master plan and increased investment in and the surrounding neighborhood,” Happy Haynes, executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation, said Thursday. “We are thrilled that our partnership with the Levitt Foundation is bringing another high-quality, unique and accessible amenity to our vibrant park system.”

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