ACRA to stump for visitor center |

ACRA to stump for visitor center

Naomi Havlen

With a vote on a new visitor center in Aspen two months away, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association will try to get voters to see the value in building the facility on Main Street.The ACRA board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to endorse the proposed center for the corner of Main and Galena streets, and to embark on a public information campaign about the November ballot issue.The project began several years ago as part of the Aspen Civic Center Master Plan. When property owner Lowell Meyer expressed interest in the project with the city, a COWOP (Convenience and Welfare of the Public) task force of 12 community representatives proposed a private/public partnership.What resulted is a $3.5 million redevelopment plan that would provide about 3,000 square feet for ACRA offices and a ground-floor visitor center in a visible locale. It also includes several free-market condominiums. Currently ACRA’s offices and visitor center are tucked into the city’s parking garage off Rio Grande Place.Meyer announced in May that he was willing to donate the space for the center and offices to the city. But the project faced strong opposition from those who didn’t want the building on Main Street, including residents and owners of the Galena Lofts, situated directly behind the proposed center’s location.The Aspen City Council approved the project, but opponents collected enough signatures from voters for a referendum, putting the issue on this fall’s ballot.On the ballot, a no vote would actually approve the project, since it asks whether voters want to reverse the council’s approval of the center.At their July meeting, ACRA board members were asked to poll the ACRA members they represent about the visitor center. The association sent out an informal poll to all of the e-mail addresses in its database, a total of 420 addresses. It received 42 responses.Board members encountered varied reactions, including apathy, since many business owners don’t live in Aspen and therefore can’t vote in the election. Strong support and strong opposition was also registered.A little more than half of the responses support the Main Street visitor center plan.Howard Ross, owner of the Mother Lode Restaurant, said he was amazed that his fellow restaurateurs had little information about the project. Many said they wouldn’t support the plan, Ross said, adding that about 60 percent of people he spoke to were against the new location.Stan Clausen, co-vice chair of the board, said he only got three responses to an informal poll he sent to members of the Economic Sustainability Committee, asking if the planned visitor center is consistent with the committee’s goals. Two people said the new plans are vastly superior to the visitor center’s current location.”It would be hard to get more information out there about this, because the committee worked on it for a long time and there are so many nuances,” Clausen said.From a visitor’s point of view, Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich said he feels that Aspen needs a more welcoming visitor center. A couple passing through town who Tomcich encountered Monday evening were concerned over the lack of inexpensive places to stay in the upper valley. He told them about a number of lodging opportunities in Snowmass Village.”We need to be more welcoming, and a first-class visitor center is needed,” Tomcich said. “We need to make sure people realize that there are bigger things at stake here than new offices.”Board member Don Roth, president of the Aspen Music Festival and School, said that ACRA needs several effective arguments to present to the public about the visitor center. “I think our most effective argument is going to be that the space will not go undeveloped,” he said. “It could be developed in lots of ways that would be far less attractive.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is

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