Aspen council deadlocked over future of City Hall
Aspen’s elected officials reached a split decision on the future of City Hall at a meeting Tuesday, directing their staff to thoroughly examine two options that haven’t been fully explored.
The council’s inability to reach a consensus decision means staff members, consultants and architects are now tasked with probing deeper into renovating the existing City Hall and another option that also would include renovation along with constructing a 33,000-square-foot civic building at 425 and 455 Rio Grande Place, where two structures currently house the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and Taster’s Pizza.
Subsequent meetings will be held to determine the level of analysis needed for a new or improved City Hall. And for now, the so-called Galena option, which included the construction of a 52,000-square-foot building, is on hold.
Even so, the staff and City Council concluded that it’s possible that a combination of two or three of the City Hall options could be considered in future talks.
Councilors Art Daily and Ann Mullins voiced support for the Galena option, which carries an estimated cost of $31.3 million and would include putting a majority of city offices under one roof in a new building on Rio Grande Place. That option also favored converting the existing City Hall, also known as the Armory building, into a community use space.
Tuesday’s meeting was spurred by the city’s Capital Assets Department, which was seeking to clarify what direction it should take for a future City Hall.
They touted the Galena Option as the preferred method because cost estimates showed it to be near the lowest among the three alternatives, it would be completed in the fastest amount of time (by the end of 2018), both customer service and employee morale would be improved and it also would honor a November advisory vote in which city residents supported the Armory building being converted to a public use. Also, the city had spent $700,000 studying the Galena option, while little money was spent researching the other alternatives.
“As an employer, we should be providing the best work environment that we can,” Mullins said.
But after grappling with the issue for nearly five hours, City Council members failed to reach a definitive conclusion.
Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Bert Myrin favored renovating City Hall, the highest priced option with an estimated cost of $43.1 million.
“I think the heart of city government needs to be there,” Skadron said, adding he wants the building to be “exemplary, architecturally significant and modest.”
Skadron said a previous campaign platform of his was to keep Aspen small, and he didn’t want to waiver from that pledge.
“I happen to think about the image of the city, when housed in an historic structure, is one of our defining characteristics,” he said. “I think that’s cool.”
And given the contentious development climate in Aspen, Skadron said that building the City Hall under the Galena option would send the wrong message.
“I think City Hall should be exactly where it is and look exactly as it does because that is Aspen,” he said.
The Wheeler Opera House’s late entrance into the plans also was unsettling for Myrin, who has long voiced his opposition to the Galena option. The Wheeler has been working behind the scenes to add some of its programming to a the City Hall building, if it were converted to a community use. Myrin just discovered that when the city issued a memo about Tuesday’s meeting.
With the Wheeler’s real estate transfer tax up for renewal in the November elections, Myrin said the community might negatively view that as a way to fund the renovation and support a new City Hall.
“I’m a little worried about the (real estate transfer tax) vote this fall being viewed by some as a referendum on the 52,000-square-foot building,” he said, adding he also wasn’t convinced the city’s price projections were accurate.
Councilman Adam Frisch could not make up his mind because of conflicts about the public perception of a 52,000-square-foot civic campus while seeing the value of the Armory building converted to public use.
The council did agree that the old Aspen Art Museum building, at 550 N. Mill St., could temporary house city employees during whatever course they take, but for the long term would house a nonprofit.
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