Aspen civic space attracts plenty of interest
November 16, 2007
ASPEN ” Everybody wants a piece of downtown. And Thursday in Aspen City Council chambers, local agencies made their pitches for office space in the redevelopment of publicly owned land bordered by Main Street, Mill Street and Rio Grande Park.
Representatives from the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, Pitkin County Library, the Aspen Art Museum and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association stumped for their needs at an open forum for the Zupancis-Galena conceptual plan.
Any project would have to leap through the hurdles of a new city ordinance, and likely a referendum vote and funding, according to Ben Gagnon, special projects planner with Aspen’s community development department.
But planners hope to have some concrete ideas by the spring of 2008, Gagnon said.
City of Aspen departments are overcrowded and staff are moving to other spaces, including temporary offices on Main Street as well as a free-market rental on East Hopkins Avenue.
“That’s not a plan; that’s leakage,” Gagnon said.
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Gagnon estimated the city would require an additional 20,000 square feet to make space for some 275 employees and planned growth.
Pitkin County officials want about 47,000 square feet of additional space for a total of 64,000 square feet downtown, according to Public Works director Brian Pettet.
County buildings are spread across seven facilities. And getting a building permit, for example, requires applicants to run a juggernaut of offices spread from the Airport Business Center to City Hall, Pettet said.
“It’s just not effective customer service,” Pettet said. “The dogs at the kennel have better space than county employees.”
A recent public process indicated residents want to keep county services in the city of Aspen, Pettet said.
And the first step: “We want to blow up the plaza building,” Pettet said, calling the aging Main Street county offices “inefficient.”
Pettet called for a moving county departments out of the courthouse, and for creating a centralized county facility on the plaza building site and neighboring city of Aspen-owned Zupancis property.
More than 50 percent of city workers and 70 percent of 230 county staff commute to Aspen, and any office redevelopment of the area would require a plan for affordable employee housing, city and county officials said.
The Pitkin County Library also is bursting at the seems, but county librarian Kathy Chandler said library planners anticipated expansion.
“We built expansion into the building,” Chandler said.
The library has an easement for a 5,500-square-foot expansion to the east, but any final approval would have to go before the City Council, she said.
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, executive director of the Aspen Art Museum, said moving from the current Rio Grande River site to the city center is not a matter of “want” but a matter of “need.”
The museum is too far from town and “hidden away and separate,” especially in winter, she said.
Jacobson hopes to build a new museum on the site of Rio Grande Place (the former youth center).
Debbie Braun of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association used a short video to make her case for space, showing a visitor’s-eye-view of the current, crowded Rio Grande visitor’s center and offices.
And one of the biggest complaints of visitors: lack of public bathrooms.
Braun is asking for about 500 square feet of space.
Many in the audience Thursday expressed frustration at attempts to build more in the already crowded core or to build on Galena Plaza ” a small park between the library and jail.
City officials called the park a “failed public place,” and said that while new buildings would “encroach” on the open area, the plan would to reinvigorate the park.
Residents will have a chance to look at conceptual drawings some time in January, Gagnon said, adding that any project would require passage of a city ordinance and a possible referendum vote.
Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.