Mishawaka expansion promises to be music to fans’ ears

The stage is set for a Poudre Canyon institution to chuck its checkered reputation and embrace a more family friendly future.

Through two phased expansions, the Mishawaka Inn will more than double the capacity of its outdoor courtyard and amphitheater to 670 from 322. The limits on the bar, restaurant and indoor dance hall will remain unchanged. Altogether occupancy will increase to 1,100 from 752.

Owners will accommodate those additional patrons and compensate for limited parking by providing round-trip shuttles between the inn and several locations in Fort Collins.

The Larimer County Commissioners made the improvements possible by unanimously approving a pair of requests. One enabled the expansion of the amphitheater at the nearly century-old venue that does not comply with current county standards.

The other was an appeal of the land-use code allowing the use of the shuttles and off-site parking to compensate for a shortage of as many as 170 parking spaces at the inn.

Parking has been a persistent problem at the inn 10 miles up Poudre Canyon. Only 106 spaces are available with 45 of those dedicated to staff and performers. The remainder are available for a relatively steep $40 to discourage driving and encourage use of the shuttles.

At a cost of $10, the coaches would pick up and deposit concertgoers at the Fort Collins downtown transit center, the Colorado State University Lory Student Center and Chipper’s Lanes — in many cases eliminating the need for them to drive at all.

Dani Grant and Matt Hoeven, owners of what is affectionately known as the “Mish” were clearly relieved and excited.

Grant promised big changes at the Mish, frequently slammed for its rowdy reputation. She said shows would be more sophisticated, of higher quality and better suited for families. Immediately, Grant said patrons will find it much cleaner.

“I really believe the Mish is a place we should be proud of,” she said. With the expanded capacity, Grant said the Mish could book some bigger names that it couldn’t afford before.

The commissioners were similarly enthusiastic about the Mish’s new direction.

Commissioner Steve Johnson said he was impressed by the thoroughness of Grant and Hoeven’s application and their commitment to making the Mish a positive asset to the canyon.

“I really appreciate you wanting to make this a family place,” said Commissioner Lew Gaiter III.

In the nearly complete first phase, the amphitheater and outdoor courtyard will be increased to a capacity of 520. The capacity will be increased to 670 in the phase beginning this fall.

One of the more vexing problems is sanitation. Currently the Mish relies on a septic system and portable toilets for larger events. The portables still will be used through the first phase but in the second they will be replaced by permanent restroom at considerable cost and complexity. Hoeven estimated the cost of all the improvements at perhaps $200,000.

Hoeven and Grant bought the Mish in December 2010 after longtime owner Robin Jones was arrested on charges of operating a marijuana-growing enterprise there. Grant also is active in SpokesBuzz, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting Northern Colorado bands. She and Hoeven also own Chipper’s Lanes bowling alleys.

They are the latest owners of the inn that has hosted numerous noted performers since it was built starting in 1916.

In his pictorial history of Poudre Canyon Stan Case wrote that Walt Thompson homesteaded the property he became so smitten with during a motorcycle ride up the Poudre. Case and his wife Lola owned and operated Arrowhead Lodge farther up the canyon for 39 years.

Thompson and his wife Alma were musicians who moved to Fort Collins in 1907 to open a music store, according to Case. Thompson characterized the site as having a similar lyrical quality, rhapsodizing that “A wonderful spring gushed from the mountainside and rippled like sweet music.”

Thompson proved up on his claim by planting apple trees — some of which remain — and raising livestock. He also installed a waterwheel and turbine to generate electricity, according to Case.To generate income, Thompson built a half dozen rental cabins, a rustic store, refreshment stand and dance hall.

Thompson named his establishment Mishawaka in tribute to a beloved Indiana town. But Case wrote that it was simply known as Thompson’s until then Silver Grill owner Mac McDowell and his wife Alida bought it in 1954 and painted over the founder’s name.

After another turnover, “granting of a liquor and beer license to the business thereafter changed the nature of the operation,” Case lamented, and the main attraction became concerts on the amphitheater that replaced Walt Thompson’s apple orchard.

Grant has acknowledged that their changes will not be welcome by some hard-chargers accustomed to previous hard-partying.

“It’s about the music,” Hoeven said after the hearing, “not the parties.”

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