Frisch couldn’t beat Power Plant, so he joined it
April 8, 2016
Adam Frisch was the sole City Council member who voted against the Aspen Power Plant last year, but he also was the only one who later worked behind the scenes on its behalf.
"I have/will continue to voice my support for all three of you as young 'go-getters' in town who have always planned in making your entity work alongside rational neighborhood concerns," Frisch wrote in an email dated March 24, 2015, to Duncan Clauss, owner of Aspen Brewing Co.; David Cook, co-owner of Channel 82; and Gordon Bronson, the organizer of the Power Plant office space. "I did also say that just because it was not my top choice, it was wholeheartedly supported by three of the four council people and the mayor, so my plan is to see this application succeed. I want to make sure you all get off on a good start."
Frisch began email talks with Bronson, Clauss and Cook eight days after City Council, in a 4-1 decision on March 17, 2015, approved Aspen Power Plant's proposal to take over the 7,200-square-foot, city-owned building at 590 N. Mill St.
The proposal includes an office setting for entrepreneurs, a studio space for Channel 82, a food-and-beverage post run by Aspen Brewing Co. and space for special events.
The Aspen Times obtained the email exchange this week at a time when Aspen Power Plant principals are trying to hatch a compromise with some residents of Oklahoma Flats. Some of those neighbors, who live close to the old Aspen Art Museum, the site of the Power Plant's plans, oppose the proposal because it would include alcohol service, a feature they claim would disrupt their neighborhood and lower their property values. The Power Plant folks are standing firm on alcohol service.
The council has been publicly criticized for choosing the Aspen Power Plant over such nonprofits as the Aspen Science Center, the Red Brick Center for the Arts and GrassRoots TV. At a meeting Wednesday organized by the Power Plant players, some attendees said they were upset with the council's decision but held nothing against the applicants.
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Science Center was part of campaign
When Frisch campaigned for re-election to City Council last year, he emphasized that he was the sole elected official who voted for the Aspen Science Center's application to occupy the old Aspen Art Museum.
Meanwhile, he launched efforts with principals of the Aspen Power Plant to temper neighbors' concerns about the project.
Frisch, in an interview Thursday, said he felt it was important for him take on a diplomatic role in a polarizing issue.
He said his support of the Science Center was partly because he wanted a family-oriented venue, and also due to his reservations about civic space being leased to a for-profit business. The Aspen Power Plant was the only for-profit group to apply for the space.
"My comments at the time (in March 2015) were that 'I love these guys, but it's the wrong location to do it,'" he said, adding that "the rest of the council bought into the Power Plant, and so there I was, on a 1-4 decision. … My view was that just because it's not my personal choice, I felt like I had an obligation to implement what council wanted.
"When I'm on the losing side of a vote, I don't cross my arms and pout."
The email from Frisch also explained that because he knew residents in the Oklahoma Flats neighborhood, which is next to the old Aspen Art Museum building, he could help quell their concerns.
"Lastly, the more talks can be handled outside of City Hall, especially council chambers, the better for all," Frisch's email concluded.
With 1,207 votes, Frisch was the top vote-getter in the May election for City Council.
City Attorney Jim True reviewed the emails Thursday — Frisch's came from a city-managed account — and said they were above board because they were exchanged after the council approved the arrangement with Aspen Power Plant. The City Council still must approve the terms of the lease, which has not been crafted, before Aspen Power Plant's tenancy is official.
The council's decision on the lease — a series of steps remain before that transpires — will be an administrative action, True said. Frisch or any other council members can hold individual, private discussions with Aspen Power Plant or other interested parties, he said.
"The decision will be made in public," True said. "And the lease is an administrate action."
Not much traction gained
Frisch's talks with Oklahoma Flats residents, however, don't appear to have been deep.
"What that email was referring to specifically was his connection to Bill Budinger," Cook said.
Budinger has been the spokesman for Oklahoma Flats residents who are against the alcoholic component of the Aspen Power Plant.
"When (Frisch) realized this was what everyone wanted, he went along with it," Budinger said. "He's had a lot of communications with me, and he said, 'We've (the council) gotten ourselves into a real pickle.'"
Said Frisch: "I have relationships with people who had some concerns, especially Bill. I kind of fell into a diplomatic role. … But I've been clear about my personal views."
Cook said Frisch hasn't done that much, actually, to help Aspen Power Plant in its discussions with their potential future neighbors.
"We're still in the dark about who those people (Oklahoma Flats residents against the project) are," he said.
Regardless, Power Plant figures were poised to schmooze with their dissenting Oklahoma Flats neighbors.
"If they are willing, we would love to know who has concerns and the specifics of what they are," Clauss wrote in the email thread. "We have talked about putting together some gift baskets for the neighborhood, as well, so would like to know who the squeaky wheels are specifically."