Aspen council agrees to Wheeler balcony project
September 5, 2012
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Tuesday directed Wheeler Opera House executive director Gram Slaton to proceed with plans for $2.9 million worth of balcony and technology improvements.
The project likely will be approved this fall through the city’s 2013 capital-improvements budget process. Money from the opera house’s real estate transfer tax fund will cover the expense if all goes according to plan.
During a work session in June, Slaton told the council that the project was sorely needed for a variety of reasons, chiefly the lack of legroom for Wheeler patrons in the balcony section and the facility’s outdated technology for film screenings. He expounded on those reasons on Tuesday, armed with a feasiblity study from Quinn-Evans Architects, of Washington, D.C., and Ann Arbor, Mich. The firm specializes in historic-preservation projects and theaters.
The facility’s technology booth, in the balcony, is out of sync with the character of the rest of the building, Slaton said: “It sits there like an alien UFO.”
He also showed council members photographs that had Wheeler marketing director Lauren Pierce sitting in different sections of the balcony with her legs in uncomfortable positions because of the lack of room.
A technology upgrade is in order because two years from now, 35 mm film prints will be obsolete, Slaton has said previously. The movie industry is rapidly switching over to digital, he said.
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Councilman Adam Frisch said he believes the work is necessary.
“The balcony experience is very poor for the general public,” he said.
Wheeler officials said they would work to ensure that the project can be completed without losing any of the theater’s 504 seats.
Last year, the city embarked on numerous renovations to the building’s basement and first-floor restaurant and retail spaces. The work also required extensive repairs to the heating and cooling system. Those projects ended up costing nearly $3 million.