Arts center plan moves forward | AspenTimes.com

Arts center plan moves forward

Janet Urquhart

A new arts center adjoining the Rio Grande parking garage is an idea worth exploring, the Aspen City Council agreed Tuesday.So is expansion of the Aspen Art Museum, council members said.Since the city owns both properties, various cultural organizations were looking for council input last night before putting any more effort into planning their futures at the two locales.Theatre in the Park, anxious to move into a larger, more permanent facility than its summertime tent at Rio Grande Park, is spearheading the push for new theater space, which could be built onto the front of the parking garage and spill over onto the top of the Library Plaza, which is the roof of the garage.The Aspen Writers Foundation and Aspen Filmfest are both interested players, as well.”We have agreed in principle to a partnership in whatever this arts center might be,” said David McClendon, artistic director for Theatre in the Park.The Art Museum, meanwhile, has concluded it can’t afford to purchase property downtown and build a new facility, and is now focused on doubling or tripling its present quarters in a historic building along the Roaring Fork River off Mill Street.Plans for both projects have emerged as part of the city’s Civic Master Plan. A committee of government and nonprofit representatives has been looking at the best locations for a variety of civic and cultural institutions since the planning process began in June 2000. A leak in the parking garage spurred the planning in the first place. Since the city has to pay to fix the leak, it makes sense to look at what it might want to do with the Library Plaza at the same time, said Chris Bendon, head of the city’s Community Development Department.Now, the leak is getting critical. Consultants say something has to be done within the next couple of years, which will mean stripping the plaza of its landscaping and installing a new membrane, at an estimated cost of $1.4 million.As a public space, the plaza has never been particularly vibrant, but an arts center that is home to Theatre in the Park and its partners could draw people to the space, Bendon suggested.”You need a reason to go there. You need a major tenant,” he said.Some council members pondered whether that’s the best place for an arts center, while others were clearly enthusiastic.”I actually think it is the perfect site for it,” said Councilman Tim Semrau.Councilman Terry Paulson panned the idea and suggested the city pull the plug on the Civic Master Plan, letting arts groups come forward on their own rather than devoting further city staff time to the planning effort.As for the museum’s expansion plan, council members said they’d entertain a proposal, but warned the site poses many complications, including a shortage of parking and a flood plain along the river.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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