Aspen electeds ice ‘winter village’ idea in Wagner Park |

Aspen electeds ice ‘winter village’ idea in Wagner Park

People and dogs play in Wagner Park on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen City Council on Monday shot down a proposal that would’ve taken over Wagner Park for three weeks for a winter village, complete with ticketed live performances and food and beverage inside of dozens of yurts and seating pods.

Organizers of “Aspen Winter Village 2021” proposed a conceptual plan that would’ve sold 320 tickets three times a day — for lunch, après and dinner service with music, comedy and other talent, with a total of 15,750 tickets sold for the entirety of the activation, which was slated between Dec. 27 and Jan. 10.

A majority of council members said while they liked the concept and commended the creativity from the organizers, they couldn’t support a private, commercial and exclusive use of Wagner Park, or an event space that large with that much activity during a health pandemic.

“I am still worried about where we are going to be with COVID in a month and a half and I don’t like the idea that public access will be cut out for that period of time and into the holidays,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said.

The proposal, floated by David Cook, co-owner of the Aspen Daily News and Soren West, a Los Angeles-based event producer, was received by the city in October with little details on logistics, or in the traditional form of a formal event permit.

Cook told council he was open to having a creative conversation about giving locals and visitors something to do outside this winter and sought suggestions from the city.

“It’s by no means etched in stone,” he said. “This is all a creative spitball that happened between me and my co-collaborator.”

The goal was to bring “radical inclusion” and holiday spirit to the community.

That would’ve come in the form of fencing off Wagner Park and filling it with 23 eight-person yurts, 18 fire pits with Adirondack chairs and a stage, with a back-of-house setup utilizing both tents and trailers.

Under current public health orders, the request would’ve required approval from Pitkin County given the potential attendance capacity considerations and COVID-19 cases on the rise throughout the country.

The winter village event included a heavy emphasis on food and beverage service, which was a concern from staff and council members.

City special events and park staff said with the level of food and beverage proposed on the site that the snow would become polluted as a result of those activities.

The debris left could reappear in the spring thaw, presenting nuisance issues and generating citizen complaints, according to staff.

Logistical problems like that, or anticipated damage to the turf of the park, snow buildup, ADA access, electrical hookups and ticket pricing so that the village would be inclusive to all segments of the population are just too great to figure out in six weeks, elected officials agreed.

Mayor Torre said he appreciated the work Cook and West put into the plan, and wants to continue the conversation to pursue similar, yet scaled-down ideas to activate outdoor spaces.

“It’s great intention, it’s great energy and these are the hardest decisions because it’s the community trade-offs and values that we have, and we all want community members and citizens like these two to come forward and know that we are open to their creativity, but it’s so hard to say ‘no’ to these kinds of ideas,” he said.

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