Art museum not interested in private land |

Art museum not interested in private land

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The Aspen Art Museum has been approached by at least six different property owners in the 18 to 20 months since it proposed building a new museum, according to director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson.

Zuckerman Jacobson would not provide specifics of the offered properties, saying she had been approached in confidence. However, she said several of the properties are on Main Street, and two are in the downtown core.

Some property owners simply wanted the art museum to purchase their land, Zuckerman Jacobson said. Others wanted the museum to exchange land with them. (The museum does not own land, renting its current site from the city. “Hence the problem,” Zuckerman Jacobson said.)

Other property owners proposed a mixed-used development ” a museum with condominiums on top, for example, or a redeveloped commercial area with a second-floor museum.

“I think when owners of property or developers saw this was a viable opportunity, people wanted to see if they could have a piece of it somehow,” said Zuckerman Jacobson, citing motivations that ranged from a love of art to a belief that partnering with the art museum might help a project win development approvals.

But Zuckerman Jacobson expressed concern that a mixed-use development might muddy the waters.

“Lift 1A is a great example,” she said, citing the controversial proposed redevelopment and its ski museum and two large hotels.

Zuckerman Jacobson also argued that many of the sites wouldn’t have allowed the square footage that the Aspen Art Museum requires, or they were in a less convenient location than the civic center idea.

And ultimately, she said, every approach in the past six months has been weighed against the museum’s investment in the ZG Master Plan, which has the museum building on city-owned land at Rio Grande Place, if voters allow the city to sell the land.

“It’s not that some of them don’t have merit, but our commitment is to finish out this commitment to the city we started,” she said.

Ben Gagnon, special projects planner with the city of Aspen, said the art museum already has spent $15,075 on the ZG Master Plan process; that includes covering expenses ranging from traffic and engineering studies to a two-day design process.

The museum has also invested significantly in hiring architect Shigeru Ban to design a building for the site. However, Zuckerman Jacobson declined to state how much the museum has paid the architect.

If the museum could not rebuild on Rio Grande Place, she estimated that only 25 percent of the conceptual work done to date could be applied to another site.

But Zuckerman Jacobson defended the museum’s decision to hire an architect prior to the public vote in May.

“We didn’t do the design to try and force anyone’s hand,” she said. “We wanted people to feel informed in making their decision.”

Ultimately, if the city is concerned about selling public land, the museum would be happy with a long-term lease, Zuckerman Jacobson said. She added that even if the museum stays where it is, it will be leasing public land.

In fact, she argued that if the museum is rebuilt on Rio Grande Place, it would be returning an improved building to the city. In the years the art museum has leased its current building, it has remodeled the inside, replaced heating systems as needed, replaced the roof, and greened the building.

And on the Rio Grande Place site, she argued, the museum would be contributing to a better civic center.

“This isn’t about our lifetime,” Zuckerman Jacobson said. “This is about posterity and doing the right thing ” being on the right side of history.”

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