ACRA: New visitor center vital
One side of the proposed new location for an Aspen visitor center, which is subject to a ballot question next month, was presented Friday morning to a sparse room of supporters and opponents.Hana Pevny, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, presented the case for having a new visitor center at the corner of Galena and Main streets. The development would be across Galena from the Pitkin County Courthouse; the site currently holds a one-story building and a small, empty lot.Since the town’s primary business is tourism, Pevny said it makes sense to relocate the visitor center to a place on Main Street that would be hard to miss.The issue will appear as Referendum 2A on the Nov. 2 ballot after a citizen’s referendum petition garnered enough signatures to challenge the city of Aspen’s approval of the project. The ballot language asks if the zoning for the project should be repealed, and voters must vote yes on repealing the zoning if they oppose the project or no if they approve the project. During her presentation, Pevny ran down a number of benefits. Because the property owner is donating the completed space to the city, the project is essentially a $2 million gift that won’t take taxpayer money to build, she said.The facility would be more welcoming to guests, Pevny said, because, aside from being in a more visible area in Aspen, it would also include restrooms: have 24-hour access, seven days a week; have three times the square footage than the current center on Rio Grande Place; and feature direct lodging access for visitors who need to find a room immediately.”We need this because it’s key to economic vitality here with its location, accessibility and amenities,” Pevny said. “Feeling welcome is paramount to our guests’ experiences. We need to turn vehicle traffic into pedestrian traffic, and turn day visitors into overnight guests.”The 15 or so people that came to the presentation either seemed to be staunch supporters of the project from ACRA or the city, or strong opponents. Nobody’s mind was changed about the visitor center, but that didn’t stop people from arguing.Gadfly Toni Kronberg challenged Pevny over proposed parking at the site, which Pevny said should be six parallel parking spots on Main Street in front of the center and the possibility of parking alongside the building on Galena Street. That parking area, however, is not yet certain since it depends on whether a planter alongside the library plaza area is replaced when the city begins repairs on the leaky roof of the underground parking lot.Candy Allen, who owns one of the units in the Galena Street Lofts, said she doesn’t like to make her objection to the plans for the visitor center a personal one. She said ACRA has made it appear as if the only problem with the proposed location is that it clearly blocks the views for loft owners, when really many other people have expressed their objection to the plans, as well.”A total of 745 people signed our petition against the plans, and there are only nine units in our building,” she said. “When the city approved this on April 12, the room was packed with people who didn’t like it, and only four property owners for Galena Lofts were there.”Allen said she and other opponents are primarily concerned about traffic congestion at the corner of Galena and Main, and a potential lack of parking in the area. She’d rather see better signs directing visitors toward the current ACRA location and visitor center in front of Rio Grande Park.Pevny responded by noting that if the visitor center is not approved by voters, property owner Lowell Meyer will have the opportunity to build something else on the lot that does not go through a citizen task force, as the visitor center did. The citizen task force that analyzed 16 alternative sites for the center agreed that the Galena and Main location was the best, with a representative from the Galena Street Lofts dissenting.The proposed project is a three-story building, with new ACRA offices in the basement level. The plans include commercial space and five free-market condos.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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