| AspenTimes.com

Are Aspen’s pedestrian malls due for makeover?

Aspen’s pedestrian malls are beginning to show their age, and city officials are cautiously considering whether it’s time for elective surgery.

Plans to dig up the 1970s-era, brick-laden malls and replace aging infrastructure underneath have been dormant for nearly two years, but are now resurfacing as Aspen’s elected officials face some of the most important decisions they’ll make in office.

As with any surgery, it’s a big deal and the patient will likely never be the same again.

“It’s going to be impactful,” said Jeff Pendarvis, the city’s capital asset director. “We are reevaluating what we are going to do and vetting it to make sure we are going about it the right way.”

He will update Aspen City Council later this month on the overhaul plan of 130,000 square feet on Hyman, Mill, Cooper and Galena streets covering three blocks.

The landscape architecture firm Design Workshop developed a conceptual design for the city in 2017 and 2018, which was based off of three years of planning and public feedback.

A rendering of the Aspen Mall.
Courtesy of City of Aspen

It includes everything from moving the bathrooms at Wagner Park to removing the fire pit on Galena Street, to a possible reconfiguring of outdoor dining spaces and replacing the early 1900s bricks with replicas that can provide an even surface, among other changes.

Those design documents, which have been shelved since last year after council approved them, are being dusted off for consideration by the newly elected, Mayor Torre-led council.

The impetus for the “big dig” is what’s lurking beneath the malls, which were built in 1976. Not only is the brick surface more than 40 years old, much of the malls’ underground infrastructure predates that by a couple of decades.

A rendering of what a resurfaced pedestrian mall in downtown Aspen would look like.
Courtesy of City of Aspen

Utility lines for water, gas, telephone, electric and storm water are due to be replaced or upgraded. Simultaneously, city officials say the uneven surface needs to be redone so it meets Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“This is to make Aspen inclusive and accessible,” said City Manager Sara Ott, acknowledging that the bricks are not ideal for walkers and wheelchairs. “It’s not the experience we want for our urban park.”

Ott also recognizes that such an endeavor is a “huge project” and will impact hundreds of businesses and thousands of citizens and visitors.

That’s why city officials have slowed their roll on taking the plan to the next step, which is creating schematic design and then construction drawings.

The entire project will be reframed for council during a work session scheduled for Sept. 24, said Darla Callaway, a principal landscape architect with Design Workshop.

“We’ve been sitting on this for a while,” she said. “The next phase of design will be crucial for options. … (The conceptual design) is a toolkit for decision makers and we’ll be there to help the city and community make the right decisions.”

Just under $4 million had been budgeted this year for schematic design and construction drawings, but it hasn’t been spent.

Ott said some money may be allocated for the 2020 budget, but it will be contingent upon what council decides.

As Design Workshop refines its scope of work, one aspect of the plan that Pendarvis plans to highlight is developing design standards for underground infrastructure and utilities and criteria for future development.

“We need those so developers know what to expect and what the design standards are,” he said. “We don’t have a project yet, it’s about design.”

It’s very likely that some buildings on the pedestrian malls get redeveloped before the bricks get ripped up.

Contract mason Chip Patterson repairs the brick on the walking mall next to Wagner Park in Aspen on Thursday, September 12, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Landlord Mark Hunt has plans to raze and replace the two restaurant spaces at 305 and 307 S. Mill St. next year, as well as transform the two buildings next to the Red Onion on the Cooper Avenue Mall into a performing arts center for Jazz Aspen Snowmass.

Pendarvis said upon further investigation, underground infrastructure might not be as bad as officials once thought.

Mayor Torre, who has previously served on council and has seen the conceptual design, said it’s inevitable that changes will be made.

“Look, we’ve got to do some work on this stuff and I don’t want to wait so long that we have problems,” he said. “I’m supportive of what I’ve seen, but I want to make positive changes, not broad changes.”


Aspen Historical Society; Ann Hodges Collection

When they were first developed, the now-iconic malls were a hotly debated and controversial topic. This redevelopment may be headed in the same direction.

The community was split in the 1970s over the appropriateness and legality of blocking off public streets and eliminating parking, along with potentially discouraging drive-up businesses.

The idea first came up in the mid-1950s, when Aspen’s elected officials were planning for the town’s future growth.

In June of 1956, an architectural design class from the University of Utah made a presentation on how Aspen might develop in the coming years, according to a state cultural resources survey.

The students got involved after the previous year’s Design Conference at the Aspen Institute, which was headed up by Los Angeles-based architects Edgardo Contini and Victor Gruen.

Gruen had designed the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the U.S. in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The idea of closing one or more of Aspen’s unpaved downtown streets and turning them into a pedestrian mall emerged in 1961.

“Clearing the way for the construction of a permanent mall proved to be more complicated and would take another fifteen years,” reads the state document. “Major issues had to be addressed, including community approval, financing, master planning, and clearing legal hurdles to this type of development.”

During that time, several temporary pedestrian malls around downtown Aspen were tested out for days at a time, with the first one introduced by a citizen’s committee led by young architect Richard Lai and nonprofit arts director Geraldine Price.

Crowds of people on a temporary mall in 1974. Guido’s Swiss Inn and Crossroads Drug are in the background, as well as Aspen Mountain.
Aspen Historical Society; Ann Hodges Collection
In 1975, a festival took place on a temporary pedestrian mall on Hyman Avenue. People milled about and checked out pottery, quilts and other items for sale in a bazaar style street fair.
Aspen Historical Society; Aspen Skiing Co. Collection

Construction crews landscaped different blocks with graveled walkways, shrubs, trees, benches, a bandstand and works of art.

After many stops and starts, the first bricks for the permanent mall were laid in the summer of 1976 by a skilled team of masons from New York. They worked six days a week, 10 hours a day.

With most of the construction complete in October of that year, the mall was officially dedicated.

“A total of 315,000 bricks were acquired to pave the three blocks that would form the mall,” according to the cultural resources survey. “All of them came from St. Louis, which was in the process of tearing up and replacing streets that had been paved in the early twentieth century.”

Aspen Historical Society

Purchased for $.40 each, the bricks cost the city of Aspen a total of $126,000.

Two manufacturers were chosen — Murphysboro Paving Brick Co. of Murphysboro, Illinois, which manufactured the ones stamped “EGYPTIAN” and the other, Wabash Clay Co. of Veedersburg, Indiana, which stamped their bricks “CULVER BLOCK.”

Nearly $1.2 million was budgeted for the mall’s construction, most of which was secured from a bond issue.

A few years later, computer expert Nick DeWolf and sculptor Travis Fulton added a major addition. Built in 1979, the Dancing Fountain on Mill Street is arguably the mall’s biggest attraction.

The mall has largely remained unchanged except for the maturation of landscaping and installation of minor features such as public artwork and additional benches for seating, according to the cultural resources survey.

However, in 2002 the Mill Street section of the mall along Wagner Park got an upgrade. The 1976-built restroom building and playground were replaced with upgraded facilities.

Two walls of the building were added to pay homage to Aspen’s history, as well as a clock tower and a ground circle called the Sister Cities Plaza.


People meander down the walking mall in Aspen on Saturday, September 14, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

So does this mean we’re headed for a shutdown of the downtown core during the mall’s facelift?

No, although it will likely have a years-long impact. If council were to follow Design Workshop’s conceptual design, construction would be done in phases, over the course of years.

Under the conceptual design, trees now reaching their maturity would be replaced, and the connections to Wagner Park and Durant Street from the Mill Street Mall would be improved.

People mill around the walking mall on East Hyman Ave. in Aspen on Tuesday, September 10, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The bathrooms in front of the park would move to the south and a new playground relocated to the north end.

An extension of the brick walkway next to Rubey Park and across Durant would help with connectivity from the mall, according to planners.

At Galena and Hyman, where the Ki Davis Fountain is, the mall would extend 5 feet longer into the street to create more space for pedestrians, according to the conceptual plan.

Mayor Torre, who lives less than a block from the Hyman Avenue Mall, acknowledged that the work will impact businesses and downtown life, and it’s the city’s job to minimize it as much as it can.

“The overall experience of the downtown is something we have to keep in mind,” he said.


Your 2019 Aspen Filmfest Cheat Sheet

Summer’s over, which for moviegoers means the superheroes and franchise fare are taking a back seat to the good stuff for awhile. The 40th annual Aspen Filmfest is a crash course in the best of what’s to come.

With 23 movies in seven days, and screenings at three theaters in Aspen and Carbondale, the 2019 edition of the Roaring Fork Valley’s biggest film event includes early looks at the most talked-about and most acclaimed movies of prestige movie season.

Day and night throughout the festival, local audiences will be among the first to see the movies that’ll have critics and audiences buzzing through Oscar night. Here’s a run-down of what to watch for:

The Auteurs

The year’s most anticipated director-driven fare fills the primetime slots at the Wheeler Opera House, including the most acclaimed film of the festival season so far: Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and has been hailed as the Korean filmmaker’s masterpiece (Tuesday, Sept. 24, 7:45 p.m.).

Additional auteur fare includes the singular Terrence Malick’s war drama “A Hidden Life” (Monday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m.), Taika Watiti’s anti-hate satire “Jojo Rabbit” (Wednesday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m.) which won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival — a bellwether for Best Picture nominations — and Stephen Soderberg’s Panama Papers docudrama “The Laundromat” (Saturday, Sept. 28, 7 p.m.)

The Actors

Courtesy photo

Yes, the Academy Awards race is already well underway. And, yes, Aspen Filmfest includes performances primed to define the 2019 campaign. Among the lead actors to keep an eye on: Renee Zellweger, already dubbed a Best Actress frontrunner, in her comeback turn as Judy Garland in “Judy” (Tuesday, Sept. 24); Adam Driver as torture investigator in “The Report” (Friday, Sept. 27, 5 p.m.); Kristin Stewart as Jean-Luc Godard muse Jean Seberg in “Seberg” (Friday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m.); Shia LaBeouf in the role he wrote for himself in “Honey Boy” (Saturday, Sept. 28, 4:30 p.m.) and Thomasin McKenzie in “Jojo Rabbit.”

On the supporting front, buzz from the early festival season says to watch for scene-stealers Annette Benning as Sen. Diane Feinstein in “The Report,” Scarlett Johansson and Waititi himself — as Hitler — in “Jojo Rabbit,” as well as Gary Oldman and a resurgent Antonio Banderas in “The Laundromat.”

The Truth

“Cracked Up”
Courtesy photo

Comedian Darrell Hammond opens up about his mental health struggles in the documentary “Cracked Up” (Thursday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m.). Aspen Film is using the film to open a conversation about the local mental health crisis, with a panel featuring director Michelle Esrick and the Aspen Hope Center’s Michelle Muething.

Other hot documentaries in the lineup include the magic mushroom study “Fantastic Fungi” (see related story), the Frank Lowry profile “What Will Become of Us” (Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2 p.m.), the dance doc “Moving Stories” (Wednesday, Sept. 25, noon); and the behind-the-scenes tale of MASS MoCA “Museum Town” (Thursday, Sept. 26, 2:30 p.m.).

And photography enthusiasts are due for a mind-blowing double-feature on Saturday, Sept. 28, with “The Times of Bill Cunningham” (noon) and “Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall” (2 p.m.)

Rising Up

It’s a movie and a movement. The unconventional documentary “WeRiseUp: The Future of Humanity” will have its world premiere at Filmfest (Friday, Sept. 27, noon). The film promises to be an artful mission statement for the WeRiseUp organization, which is calling for a new way of defining success and prosperity. It will be followed by a filmmaker Q&A and will be complemented by a panel discussion (Saturday, Sept. 28, 10:30 a.m.) with WeRiseUp creators Kate Maloney, Michael Shaun Conaway, Alex Melnyk and DJ Spooky.

Honoring a Legend

Bob Rafelson
Courtesy photo

Filmmaker Bob Rafelson’s iconoclastic vision shaped the New Hollywood movement with “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces,” and gave actors like Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern career-making roles. Rafelson, who has lived full time in Aspen since 1970, will accept Aspen Film’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Cinematic Arts and will be the subject of a tribute (Wednesday, Sept. 25, 5 p.m.). The festival will also screen his overlooked gem “Mountains of the Moon” (Sunday, Sept. 29, 2 p.m.).


Offseason Culture: 20 reasons to stick around Aspen this autumn

The summer crowds are gone, the construction crews are back to work and we’ve got two-and-a-half months until the ski lifts start spinning again.

But the stages and screens of Aspen are staying busy this offseason, with theater, comedy, film, top-tier pop music from legends new and old and, yes, of course, some new ski movies on the bill.

The offseason entertainment lineup has plenty of reasons to stick around this fall. Here are 20:


Through September

The itinerant gallery is back on Hyman Avenue for the month, with benefit shows for worthy causes featuring works by Brendan Missett (opening Sept. 13) and Ajax Axe (Sept. 26). In the shadow of the Aspen Art Museum, it joins pop-ups the R. Carter Gallery and Merrill Steiger Gallery for what promises to be a lively September.


Sunday, Sept. 15, Belly Up Aspen

Before he headlines Red Rocks, the music legend returns to Aspen for the first time in more than a decade with his Sky Trails band.


Tuesday, Sept. 17, Belly Up Aspen

The can’t-miss Texas blues guitarist is, somehow, only getting better with each of his regular tour stops in Aspen.


Wednesday, Sept. 18-21, Hurst Theater

Four days, four new one-person shows, 11 performances and Beau Bridges onstage at the Hurst Theatre in Rio Grande Park in Theatre Aspen’s rebranded fall festival.


Thursday, Sept. 19, Wheeler Opera House

The self-proclaimed “overthinker” brings puns, graphs and, yes, laughs to the Wheeler as the historic theater continues its run of top-tier standup comedy bookings.


Sept. 19 – Oct. 31, Red Brick Center for the Arts

Photographers Neal Beidleman, Tamara Susa, Jeremy Swanson and Kristin Braga Wright team up for a nature-centric group show at the Red Brick.


Tuesday, Sept. 23, Wheeler Opera House

Director Bon Joon-Ho’s latest won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and has critics using words like “masterpiece,” so it’s a can’t miss as Aspen Film ushers in prestige film season at the 40th annual Aspen Filmfest filled with the year’s most anticipated titles.


Friday, Sept. 27, Belly Up Aspen

Southern-accented folk from sisters Leah and Chloe Smith, local favorites who will fill Belly Up for this one.


Sunday, Oct. 6, Belly Up Aspen

The former Soul Coughing frontman is celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Ruby Vroom” by playing it in full.


Oct. 11 – Nov. 11, The Art Base (Basalt)

The locally based multimedia artist unveils the latest in his innovative paper collages.


Sept. 13-14, Wheeler Opera House

The second annual festival showcasing new and eye-opening films by and about indigenous Americans, produced in partnership with the Aspen Ute Foundation.


Tuesday, Oct. 15, Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar

The Aspen Words writer-in-residence for October is here working on a follow-up to her debut “The Ensemble” and will read and discuss her work at this free event.


Wednesday, Oct. 16, Belly Up Aspen

This energetic throwback soul band, led by the indefatigable Paul Janeway, returns to sweat and strut at Belly Up.


Opening Oct. 18, Aspen Art Museum

An interactive installation, organized in partnership with the Contemporary Austin, aimed at bringing the community into the museum galleries to play.


Friday, Oct. 18, Wheeler Opera House

The ski porn flick from Teton Gravity Research on the big screen to spread the stoke as we count down the days to until the lifts open. (Look for more from the snowsports titles at The Meeting, Oct. 3-5, also at the Wheeler).


Thursday, Oct. 24, Wheeler Opera House

A one-woman band combining multiple instruments, loops, dance beats and beat-boxing at the Wheeler’s On the Rise series.


Oct. 31 & Nov. 1, Belly Up Aspen

The jam band set will descend on Aspen for this two-night Halloween run, sure to be ground zero of the town-wide Halloween party.


Nov 8-16, Aspen District Theatre

Dolly Parton’s Broadway musical, based on the 1980 film, with infectious songs and a message more relevant than ever for the “Lean In” and #MeToo era.


Friday, Nov. 8, Wheeler Opera House

Expect enchanting three-part harmonies, folk originals and gorgeous covers of folk classics like “Angel From Montgomery” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from this California-based trio at the On the Rise Series.


Friday, Nov. 22, Belly Up Aspen

The electro-funk duo will soundtrack the last hurrah of offseason, just before Thanksgiving and the opening of ski season.


Jazz Aspen Labor Day Crash Course: What to expect from headliners Weezer, John Mayer, Sting and more

The Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience is Aspen’s unofficial end-of-summer closing party and, of course, its biggest annual pop music festival. As the caliber of headliners has risen over the past two decades to include the biggest rock stars on Earth, we’ve come to expect that these artists need no introduction. But just in case you need a refresher, or if you’ve been sleeping on Sting and Weezer news of late, here’s what you need to know about the main stage acts coming to Snowmass Town Park over the holiday weekend.


Friday, Aug. 30, 6 p.m.

Key Track: “Feel it Still,” 2017

What’s New? Stardom. These indie rock stalwarts were rock club favorites for more than a decade before “Feel It Still” became a global smash, won the band the Grammy for Best Pop Performance and introduced them to millions of new fans.

What to Expect: A guitar-based rock show and singing along to “Feel It Still” with thousands of people.


Friday, Aug. 30, 8 p.m.

Key Track: “Say It Ain’t So,” 1995

What’s New? Covers. After its creative direction was fiercely debated by fans since its era-defining mid-1990s “Blue Album” and “Pinkerton,” Weezer fully embraced pop fan service with 2019 covers album that includes a meme-driven take on “Africa” by Toto, “Take on Me” by a-Ha and “No Scrubs” by TLC, among others.

What to Expect: Good-time covers, way more hit songs than you remember Weezer had and hot takes in the audience from hipster dudes age 35 to 45.


Saturday, Aug. 31, 3 p.m.

Key Track: “Put the Gun Down,” 2012

What’s New? Ward is touring on her 2017 album “The Storm” but always infuses her shows with takes on blues classics from the likes of Son House.

What to Expect: Hip-hop infused blues rock and what might be the sleeper show of the festival.


Saturday, Aug. 31, 5 p.m.

Key Track: “Hurricane,” 2016

What’s New? Combs in early August released “Let’s Just Be Friends” on the soundtrack from “The Angry Birds Movie 2”

What to Expect: Country that rocks in the Chris Stapleton tradition from one of the genre’s newest breakout stars.


Saturday, Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m.

Key Track: “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” 2006

What’s New? Performing with Dead & Company. Mayer, the one-time heartthrob pop star, has won over the jam band world and the living members of the Grateful Dead with four years of tours.

What to Expect: Shredding. Yes, Mayer has massive hits new and old, but bottom line is he may be the best guitarist of his generation and his live shows are a showcase for that virtuosity.


Sunday, Sept. 1, 3 p.m.

Key Track: “Bubba Slide,” 2014

What’s New? “Afterlife Vol. 2,” an EP released in July.

What to Expect: A funk and disco dance party, color-coordinated costumes and a jolt of energy to start the festival’s final day.


Sunday, Sept. 1, 5 p.m.

Key Track: “Best Part,” 2017

What’s New? The single “21,” released in July.

What to Expect: A performance that, years from now, you’ll brag about having seen. H.E.R. won two Grammys earlier this year, at age 21, and is becoming the next major American R&B artist.


Sunday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.

Key Track: “Every Breath You Take,” 1988

What’s New? The album “New Songs,” released in May, featuring fresh and modernized recordings of his biggest solo and Police hits.

What to Expect: A hit parade from the ageless Englishman in a tight festival set of Police and solo tracks perfected this summer on Sting’s ongoing world tour.