The Aspen City Council has elected to hear public presentations on potential uses for the riverfront space that the Aspen Art Museum is expected to vacate this summer.
Though the exact date for the public forum has not been set, it is expected within the next three weeks, the board decided at a work session Tuesday. Even if the council’s May slate is filled, Mayor Steve Skadron said the board may consider holding a special work session on a Wednesday evening. The presentations will be limited to five minutes and will include the option for PowerPoint slides. After considering the presentations, city staff will write up a request-for-proposal draft. Once the request is finalized, entities will be able to submit formal applications, which will begin the bidding process.
The council also agreed to put public dollars toward repairs for the 7,200 square-foot space located at the intersection of Mill Street, Red Mountain Road and Gibson Avenue. Repairs — which include replacing a corrugated-metal roof — are estimated to cost between $900,000 and $1.2 million. Staff also has recommended installing a commercial kitchen, estimated to cost between $300,000 and $600,000. The council did not give a “yes” or “no” on that option but left it open as a possibility. The kitchen, Councilman Dwayne Romero said, will depend heavily on the ultimate use decided for the space.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon gave an explanation for requesting the commercial kitchen: “One of the reasons we brought it up is we see it in very ancillary things that come up: Someone is looking for a place that the Environmental Health Department will accept to make food that they sell at the farmers market.”
He added that these requests come from entities or individuals who only need the space once a week for three months out of the year. These groups, he said, sometimes resort to using available kitchens at local restaurants. He also said a kitchen will be useful for special events at the space.
“I think a kitchen will facilitate a much better end product and use of the space, and we should seriously consider it,” Skadron said.
The majority of council members said that they are still open to both single-use and multi-use possibilities for the space. Romero, who is in favor of the multi-use model, again pushed for the Aspen Science Center as an anchor tenant for the space. The council was asked to elaborate on the “wow factor” it wanted to see at the new space when discussions on the issue began. Romero said he wants something aligned with Aspen’s tourism-based economy while identifying with youth.
“We have institutional quality leadership — the environment, music, arts,” he said. “We also have emerging nonprofits, and science center is one emerging.”
Councilman Art Daily said he would like to pursue the science center idea but not exclusively.
Community Relations Officer Mitzi Rapkin — who has facilitated discussions on the Old Power House, the name the city chose for the space — said she has gotten a lot of interest from groups who would like to use the space once a month. She presented a mock calendar with possible daily events, including: free yoga, film-appreciation night, homework help, poetry night, card games, teen ping pong and kids math, among other events.
The council did not shoot down the community-center idea, but Councilman Adam Frisch said the Red Brick, Yellow Brick and Pitkin County Library already offered similar community events.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said there are many different ways to establish a wow factor, citing the Wheeler Opera House, the Hotel Jerome, the Sardy House and Gondola Plaza as four diverse examples.
Skadron said he wants the possibility for the space to evolve into something they did not envision at the start.
“Perhaps what we start with today becomes something we didn’t imagine in the future,” he said. “I’m not afraid to defy convention with this.”