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Art bamboozle?

Dear Editor:

The Aspen Art Museum is pulling out all stops (“Museum design unveiled,” “free art. for everyone. all the time,” open houses) to convince the City Council and Aspen residents that it desperately needs a larger facility to better serve the community and visitors, alike.

The campaign’s goal is passage of a May 5 referendum whereby it and the city would negotiate the sale of publicly owned property, the former youth center, as the site of the new facility.

Why has city owned property been targeted for the museum’s expansion when suitable privately owned sites are available in Aspen’s core ” for example, the tract adjacent to Little Annie’s? This is an uncontroversial option that’s good for both parties: the museum gets to expand in the city center and Aspen benefits from the removal of this long-undeveloped eyesore.

I suspect the museum knows it can get the city property for less than it would have to pay in a private transaction. Why else would it commission at significant expense a site-specific architectural model of the proposed downtown museum?

If the referendum passes, the appraisal and negotiating process will be skewed toward the acquirer in our depressed real estate market. Unlike private sellers who can wait out a temporary decline in values, the city will be subject to cajoling and intimidation if it holds out for more than the museum appraiser’s valuation. The city has not been diligent in evaluating purchases (e.g., the BMC acquisition) and there is little reason to believe it will more vigilant in protecting scarce public resources this time around.

Why then is the City Council amenable to the youth center sale? Members have made a big deal buying and banking properties throughout the city for future affordable housing projects. Now an invaluable core property already in the public domain has become the subject of the art museum’s envious eye.

Could it be that the museum sale represents a fast way to replenish city coffers seriously depleted by the extravagant land purchases over the past couple of years? With the transfer and Wheeler tax collections markedly down, the proceeds from the projected sale would represent a short-term windfall to the city even at the long-term expense of taxpayers.

The best resolution of this matter, regardless of the party’s motives, is for the city to retain this irreplaceable property to meet future civic needs and for the museum to use its ample resources to purchase another site unfettered by any conditions attendant on the acquisition of public property.

Michael Levine

Aspen


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