$8M plan unveiled for Basalt River Park

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
A man walks his dog along the Roaring Fork River in Basalt during high water in June. A citizens' committee unveiled a plan to create a park at the former Pan and Fork site for $8 million.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |


Cost estimates for plan recommended by the town’s Parks, Open Space and Trails Committee

Work on Two Rivers Road east $522,602

Reconstruction of bus stops $307,403

Base level design of river park $2.6 million

Full level design (additional) $1.72 million

Band shell structure $573,000

Old Pond fishing pier $187,000

River park amenities hub $2.07 million

Total for river park $7.98 million

A Basalt citizens’ committee advised the Town Council on Tuesday night to spend nearly $8 million to convert the former Pan and Fork site into a signature riverfront park.

The Parks, Open Space and Trails Committee unveiled the conceptual plan its been working on since February for the property, now called the Basalt River Park. The site is along the Roaring Fork River, just west of downtown. The park is being planned independently from a whitewater park that Pitkin County is pursuing about 1 mile upstream in Basalt.

The Basalt River Park plan was laid out in seven chunks and associated costs (see related fact box for individual components).

The $8 million proposal dropped the jaws of some council members.

“When I was reading this information (Tuesday) and saw the price, my heart stopped,” Councilman Auden Schendler said.

He acknowledged that he found the proposal “terrifying” because he is uncertain how the town will pay for it.

Councilman Mark Kittle said he didn’t feel voters would support spending that much money on developing the park.

“To be honest with you, I would say I would vote ‘no,’” Kittle said.

He suggested giving voters options and coming up with an alternate plan in case all get rejected.

“What’s Plan B if the bond doesn’t pass?” Kittle asked. He said his alternate plan would be to make the park “usable” for the minimal amount of money.

“It’s not going to take $8 million,” he said.

Town Manager Mike Scanlon and town financial consultant Bruce Kimmel acted fast to try to assuage the council’s fears. Scanlon said they had been looking at methods to fund park improvements for the past 18 months. The punch line, he said, is the town wouldn’t have to increase the existing property tax to raise $8 million for the park.

Consultant Bruce Kimmel said devoting 75 percent of the sales tax revenue dedicated to Parks, Open Space and Trails and extending a property tax being used to pay off a bond issuance would cover the park expense.

“Our base case says the town has fiscal capacity in the ballpark with the river park cost estimates,” Kimmel said in an email in response to a question from The Aspen Times after the meeting.

Parks, Open Space and Trails sales tax revenue is being used along with a property tax levy to pay off bonds issued in 2013 for the town’s “Fix the Fork” effort. The funds were used to ease the flooding potential of the Roaring Fork River. The bonds will be paid off in 2020 at the current payment schedule.

Kimmel said the town could seek voter approval to maintain the property tax for another six years after the bonds are paid off to raise funds for the park improvements. Maintaining the mill levy would require voter approval.

The council didn’t decide in Tuesday’s work session if it will approve the $8 million park plan or place a funding question on the ballot. The council has until Aug. 23 to decide whether a question will go on the November ballot.

Scanlon said he would recommend asking voters to extend the mill levy and use open space sales tax revenue to pursue the $8 million park plan. The expense will only increase if it is phase over time, he said. In addition, interest rates on bonds are at 60-year lows.

“It’s the borrowing rate that’s really the big helper,” Scanlon said.

Funding park improvements are only one part of the convoluted Pan and Fork picture. The park, as conceived, isn’t feasible without buying a portion of land owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. There is no current plan for funding a land purchase. The council also is in a stalemate over the uses it would allow on a developable part of Community Development Corp.’s property.