Members of the Aspen City Council said Tuesday that the Old Power House, which the Aspen Art Museum is scheduled to vacate in August, presents an opportunity to establish the town’s next iconic landmark.
One idea that gained traction among council members was an Aspen Science Center, which would host youth camps and professional symposiums. Council member Dwayne Romero, who offered the idea, said the U.S. is in trouble in terms of science and math performance, and he said a science center could be “the next Aspen idea.”
Councilman Art Daily agreed with Romero, while Mayor Steve Skadron regarded it as “not an absurd proposition.” Uses the council opposed Tuesday include restaurants, housing, office space and lodging.
At 4 p.m. Thursday at the Rio Grande building, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the future of the space.
The building, located at the intersection of Mill Street, Red Mountain Road and Gibson Avenue, is roughly 7,200 square feet, with parking for 22 vehicles. With access to the Rio Grande and Lone Pine trails, the property, which was purchased by the city in 1976, has a park-like setting with mature vegetation and close proximity to the Roaring Fork River. Despite the tentative August move-out date, the Art Museum has the right to the space for another year.
At Tuesday’s work session, Aspen’s capital assets director Scott Miller estimated that the Old Power House will require $1 million in renovation, for roofing and electrical work. The council as a whole was undecided on whether the city or new occupant should incur that cost, but councilman Adam Frisch said that since it is city-owned, the city should pay. After that, he said, officials can decide how much rent to charge to the occupant if it feels the need to generate more revenue.
Currently, the Art Museum pays $1 a year for the space. Skadron questioned why the city doesn’t receive more compensation when the Art Museum is in the midst of building a $40 million structure in the downtown core. He said there needs to be more scrutiny for the next occupant.
“The spirit of nonprofit is right. The reality in this town is that they operate essentially like private entities,” he said. “It would be a disaster to me if this space is utilized by an organization that has the financial wherewithal to operate in a private space.”
Discussion moderator Steve Wickes pointed out that when the Art Museum took over the space in 1979, it did not have the ability to operate in a private space. He said the council of the 1970s might be proud that the Art Museum has become a very successful organization, partly because the city allowed it to lease such a cheap space.
The council was not ready to discuss the parameters for a Request for Proposals, which would begin a bidding process for the space. City manager Steve Barwick said the council needs to keep in mind that many city facilities, including the Aspen Police Department, will need new homes in the near future.
“We’ve got to do this work that’s going to take at least another six months or so,” he said. “What your ability is to fund (the Old Power House) versus the others, we can’t tell you yet. ... The financial situation looks good, but we have this huge unknown.”
Frisch said that for the next meeting, he would like more information on the financial impacts of the building and more discussion on the outdoor uses for the facility. After Thursday’s public meeting, the Old Power House will be scheduled for a future council meeting.