Aspen hires firm to assess need for Wheeler expansion |

Aspen hires firm to assess need for Wheeler expansion

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday approved a $50,000 contract with a New York-based firm to determine whether there’s enough need and market demand to build an expansion to the Wheeler Opera House – the planning of which was put on hold in December.

The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with Webb Management Services Inc., as well as appropriate $17,000 from the Wheeler fund to cover the cost of city officials’ time in managing the contract and perform other capital planning duties over the next several months.

The $30 million, 265-seat theater planned for the empty lot next to the Wheeler was put on hold in January, after Wheeler Executive Director Gram Slaton was directed by the council in December to back off on the planning of a second facility and hire an independent consultant to determine if there is a need for one.

The council in December also asked Slaton to consider existing facilities that could be purchased and converted into performing arts space.

Webb Management Services will conduct a comprehensive usage study of all arts facilities in town, and a needs assessment of their programming and other economic indicators that will either make the case for a second Wheeler facility, or not.

More specifically, the consultant will assess the cultural and physical needs of the Wheeler and other performing arts venues; determine whether market demands would support supplemental space to sustain cultural programming, as well as consider and prioritize possible sites to accommodate the space demands.

The work is expected to take 12 to 14 weeks, and a final report will be presented to the council, the Wheeler board of directors and the public during a community open house.

About $414,000 has been spent on the expansion planning effort since 2004, when the Wheeler “21st Century Master Plan” was initiated by the City Council. That figure takes into account consultants, engineers and architects involved in seeing if further exploration of the concept was feasible, plus various searches and field work, and all the costs once it officially became a conceptual project in January 2009.

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