Citizens for Aspen’s Community Center is the city’s second issue committee | AspenTimes.com

Citizens for Aspen’s Community Center is the city’s second issue committee

In a close advisory vote, the Armory building's use as a community center passed Tuesday. But what will happen next with the site remains largely unknown.

A group pushing the Armory building's use as a community center, once City Hall relocates near Galena Plaza, is the second issue committee to register with the city of Aspen prior to November's election.

Citizens for Aspen's Community Center formed Tuesday. It is the campaign committee stemming from the original pro-community-center group, known as the Armory Hall Restoration Committee, whose goal is to return the building to its historical use.

From 1892 to 1957, the Armory building, located at the corner of East Hopkins Avenue and Galena Street, served as a community center. If the community votes to return the Armory building to its original use, the Galena site will house all of the city's offices.

If the community votes to keep office spaces in the Armory building, the city will continue operating within separate spheres, and Galena Plaza will be 20,000 fewer square feet.

Bruce Etkin, who formed the Armory Hall Restoration Committee in November, is funding the first $100,000 on the study of the Armory building as a community-use site.

Etkin is a developer and founding member of the Denver-based commercial real estate group Etkin Johnson and has lived in Aspen full time for the past 14 years.

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Etkin, who serves on numerous nonprofit boards, said he is proposing the Armory as a community site because the opportunity to create "Aspen's community center" and renovate the structure to its past historical use as a community gathering space "fascinates" him.

"If we are successful, the benefits will be 1,000-fold for our children and their children," he said.

Etkin has three children who've gone to school in Aspen, two of whom currently attend the high school.

"I enjoy directed giving, and when I see an opportunity to do good, I try to do that," Etkin said, adding he enjoys giving back with his time and money.

"Contributing funds to prime the pump on this opportunity is like angel investing," Etkin said. It will allow the group to get started, but the real money — another $10 million or so — will come from many sources, Etkin said, adding that he's "confident the committee has the connections" to raise more money.

To help determine some of the details, as well as further planning and campaigning, Etkin contracted Aspen's Darnauer Group Marketing & PR.

While the group's plans for the Armory are still conceptual, group President Jeanette Darnauer said the plans are "purposefully conceptual," as the group hopes to get community feedback.

"A community center is just this," Darnauer said. "It's about accommodating all the uses that a community says we would like to have here."

Ashley Feddersen, who works directly for Etkin, said city officials also have advised the group to keep ideas conceptual rather than "going into meetings and presenting too many details and plans as concrete."

Over the next three weeks, Darnauer said the group has many meetings and presentations set up, including some with the senior center, the Red Brick Center for the Arts and Theatre Aspen as well as other, larger organizations and groups in town.

"We'll also be sending out mailings and updating our Facebook page, Aspen's Community Center, which is a great resource to find information if people are wanting," Darnauer said.

Recognizing the challenge in reaching some people who don't belong to some of these larger organizations, as well as a younger demographic in Aspen, Feddersen said, the group intends to step up its outreach efforts from now until election time.

Darnauer said the group also is working with city Community Relations Director Mitzi Rapkin to set up site visits of the Armory building showing what it used to look like as well as what the group would like to get proposed. These visits will likely take place the week of Oct. 12 or the week of Oct. 19, Darnauer said.

Some functions the Armory Hall Restoration Committee and Darnauer's group hope to bring back include using the Armory as a space for dances, proms, concerts, lectures, political gatherings, community dances, pot-luck fundraisers, a wintertime farmers market, roller skating, basketball games and more.

"We want people to think big. This is about a dream for the community. And it's a simple question: Do you believe in this dream? If so, check community-use," Darnauer said, referring to the advisory question that will appear on the November election ballot.

Tony Vagneur, a fourth-generation Aspenite, remembers using the Armory building when he was young.

Vagneur said he loved the community center as a child and was disappointed to see City Hall take over the space in 1957.

"I remember it. We didn't think that was a cool idea. All of a sudden, we weren't welcome," Vagneur said, referring to himself and his childhood friends at the time.

When the Armory building ceased functioning as a community center, groups that used the space to meet were forced to seek other places to convene, share with other organizations or use the basement of the community church.

Today, Vagneur argues that Aspen lacks a sense of communal feel due to the location of its schools and recreation center as well as the city's lack of a community center.

"If you think about it, the city shoots itself in the foot because we've pushed everything out of town," Vagneur said. "We've moved the schools out to Maroon Creek. We built the recreation center out there. All the community activities essentially take place out of town."

Vagneur said the last bit of any communal feeling in Aspen was when the elementary school was located in town.

"Seeing little kids cross the street, you'd say to yourself, 'Oh yeah, this a real community.' To me, it's just artificial in many ways because we don't have any community activities," Vagneur said, noting the exception of special annual events such as Ruggerfest.

"What a great benefit it would be if there was actually something in town for the community," he said.

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