ACRA backs new visitors center site |

ACRA backs new visitors center site

Naomi Havlen

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association board on Tuesday decisively backed the city’s plan to move the visitors center near Rio Grande Park to a new site on Main Street.

For the last several weeks, board members have stayed quiet about the visitors center and the controversial issue of whether to move it. Yesterday, the board considered funding an advertising campaign for what they referred to as an emerging political issue.

Board members agreed unanimously that it’s time to speak up about the project, which they view as good for business and good for visitors. Mayor Helen Klanderud, who sits on the ACRA board, abstained from voting.

“We have to treat this as a political issue,” said board member Mike Taets. “We’re signing up for a political campaign. Are we going to back it up with money and support?”

Other board members agreed that time is of the essence in trying to get accurate information to the public about the project.

“One thing I’ve learned about Aspen is that there are very few undecided people in the valley,” said David Perry, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president. “People here take a stand, and they make up their minds quickly. We shouldn’t let this sit and stew because we’ll lose ground.”

The Aspen City Council approved the relocation of the visitors center and ACRA’s offices with a 3-2 vote at a contentious meeting on April 12. A standing-room-only crowd voiced mostly opposition to the project.

The proposed site is the corner of Main and Galena streets, next to US Bank. It would include 1,360 square feet of office space for ACRA’s headquarters, plus 900 square feet for the visitors center.

The one-story building nearest to that corner would become part of the new three-story building, in addition to a garden level that isn’t visible from Main Street.

Residents of the Galena Lofts, a nearby condominium complex, have been the most vocal opponents of the project, which would block views of Aspen Mountain from the newly renovated condos. Attorneys for those homeowners have hinted at a legal fight, contending the ratio of the project’s floor area to the lot exceeds what’s allowed in the commercial core.

In letters to the editor, other project opponents have said it would be less expensive to improve the signs directing visitors to the current visitors center on Rio Grande Place.

The issue may be headed for a public vote. Two Galena Lofts owners are circulating a petition trying to overturn the City Council’s decision. If 10 percent of registered voters in Aspen sign the petition by May 16, the City Council would be forced to either reconsider its approval or put the issue to a public vote.

ACRA board chairman Rick Jones noted that the project was suggested by the city staff and is part of the ongoing Civic Center Master Plan process.

Jones said he would discuss the issue with ACRA’s executive committee to determine how the board will move forward with the proposed ad campaign.

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