The Aspen City Council received a number of pitches from the public Tuesday for the soon-to-be-vacant riverside space currently occupied by the Aspen Art Museum.
Potential uses for the 7,200-square-foot space dubbed the Old Power House included: science education, performing arts, hostel beds, a multimedia center, a microbrewery and incubator space for entrepreneurs. The art museum is expected to move into its new downtown building in July, though it is allowed a year to vacate the North Mill Street space. The official bidding process is expected to begin that same month.
Angie Callen, executive director of the Red Brick Council for the Arts, said her organization is prepared to manage the building for the city, with five performing-arts nonprofits sharing program space. They are: Theatre Aspen, Hudson Reed Ensemble, Aspen Fringe Festival, Theater Masters and Aspen Community Theatre.
Ed Foran, a Hudson Reed actor, was one of seven people who spoke up for what Callen called the Power House Performing Events Center.
“One of the challenges we face with performing arts in our community is the lack of rehearsal space, studio space, performance space, affordable space,” Foran said.
When Councilman Dwayne Romero asked if the Red Brick would be willing to share the space for uses other than performing arts, Callen answered yes, saying another prospective suitor, the Aspen Science Center, would have the ability to hold pop-up exhibits and events.
Mike Simmons and Steve Pinsky, of the Aspen Science Center, made the case for their idea by sharing a slideshow. Simmons said the concept is to develop a world-class facility where children, teens and adults can participate in a “fascinating journey in learning about the world.” One feature would be an outdoor study area between the Rio Grande Trail and the Roaring Fork River, which the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies also neighbors.
Jimmy Yeager, owner of Jimmy’s restaurant, was one of a handful who spoke in favor of the science center. He said that as a parent, it’s a no-brainer to give Aspen’s children an opportunity to become educated in a subject where American performance is lacking.
Romero posed the same question he did to Callen: Is the science center willing to share the space? Though Simmons responded that he didn’t have a ready answer to the question, he said that exhibits are capable of being moved and cleared out for other uses.
Another idea posed for the Power House is to operate as a community center. Callen said that suggestion makes her nervous, as the Red Brick already offers community space, which is not 100 percent booked throughout the year.
Michael Gassman and Jim Breasted pitched the idea of turning the space into a hostel because many of Aspen’s guests are young people traveling alone.
“Living cheap doesn’t exist here anymore,” Breasted said.
Duncan Clauss, owner of Aspen Brewing Co., advocated for turning some of the space into a brewery. He argued it would be a great compliment to a performing arts center. Mayor Steve Skadron joked that it would be a great compliment to a hostel. Then he thanked Clauss for his presentation and invited him to submit an official bid.
John Masters, executive director of GrassRoots TV, pitched the idea for an “Aspen Media Powerhouse,” with a four-camera, HD-television studio, a video archive, creative stations for experimental work and classroom space. Councilman Adam Frisch offered the opinion that GrassRoots is doing “a great job as is.”
“Is it a matter of you need more square footage? Or you need a ceiling that’s higher than whatever it is now?” Frisch asked.
“All of the above,” Masters answered. “We’ve got 20 pounds of coffee in a three-pound can there.”
He added that there are many nonprofits and organizations that need their presentations and performances recorded. But the fees associated with creating a studio out in the field makes it prohibitive.
Jon Fox-Rubin, organizer of Aspen Startup Weekend, offered the idea to combine the science center with startup space for local entrepreneurs who want to grow a business in the community. He said tenants would be vetted from Startup Weekend. Skadron responded that Fox-Rubin’s idea was timely, as one of the council’s top 10 goals for 2014 is to create incubator space for local businesses.