Armory remodel too rich for City of Aspen’s pockets

An additional $20 million is needed to bring former City Hall to an acceptable community space

Aspen Deputy City Clerk Mike Sears moves the election server, known as “The Beast,” from the Armory Building to the new City Hall on May 16, 2022. (Contributed by Cindy Klob)

Aspen’s elected officials decided on Monday that they are OK with hitting the pause button on the future remodel of the old Armory Building while roughly $20 million can be found to bring it back to community use.

The budget placeholder for the remodel has been $7.5 million but that would only pay for what city staff are calling a “fluff and buff,” which covers the minimum amount of work to the historic building and not even close to what the community desires.

The majority of council during its work session on Monday favored option B, which is called “somewhere in the middle” and costs between $18 million and $23 million.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards and Mayor Torre favored phasing from “somewhere in the middle” to the final option, which is “the works” and will cost between $21.5 million and $26.5 million.

“I think we are going to have such limited amount of truly community-serving space in the future that we’re going to need every inch of it, every possible inch,” Richards said. “I think that it’s good to plan 15 or 20 years from now.”

Based on community surveys, focus meetings and an open house in which over 500 people participated in the past four months, the top five uses that the public would like to see are casual dining, a community center, multi-purpose space, nonprofit services and lower-price-point retail.

Common themes emerged in people’s responses to their desired use of the Armory, like “community center, connection, commingling, social, heart of Aspen, hope for a spot in Aspen where the community can come together opportunity,” said Denise White, the city’s director of communications. “Two of the other big words were ‘affordable’ and ‘flexible.'”

A majority of respondents said to take the time, if needed, for a more thorough renovation, and many of them considered the Armory a high priority that should receive additional funds if necessary.

Jen Phelan, the city’s development manager, asked for and received council’s blessing to temporarily pause the planning and instead evaluate funding options based on preferred development.

“Prior to moving into schematic design, you have a work session scheduled at the end of June to talk about the funding priorities for the (asset management plan),” she told council. “I’ve been told we do not have the budget for some of this more extensive remodeling, and so I think you need to have some of those tough conversations, and we can come back with some potential options.”

Aspen City Council will decide how to remodel the former City Hall, or armory building, downtown on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

City Manager Sara Ott pointed out that the annual property tax revenue for the asset management plan is $4 million.

“It’s actually a pretty considerable situation and prioritizing how you want to use those asset management plan dollars … funding will be one of your restrictive considerations,” she said. “It’s just how much money is there.”

Council members voiced support for private donations but only after the uses in the building are decided.

“When we think about bringing dollars into this, that’s part of the community conversation because I do see this as something that is ripe for some philanthropic donations, whether that’s because of the desired outcome or the naming right,” Councilman Skippy Mesirow said.