Aspen kills plan to take Given sale to voters

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Tuesday rejected a plan to ask voters if it should buy the Given Institute for $15 million, saying the amount was too high.

But the council will host public comment on the potential ballot item during its regular session Sept. 13, offering the possibility that there would be enough public outcry to get the item on November’s ballot.

The proposal the council struck down would have amended an agreement with the University of Colorado’s medical school, and voters would have been asked if the city should buy the building.

Councilman Torre said the negotiation the university has offered in a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, was unacceptable.

“I feel like we’re being asked for an amount of money that is more” than the property is worth, Mayor Mick Ireland said, adding that he was not willing to pose that question to voters.

The university announced in May that it intended to sell the land, saying CU’s dire fiscal situation means it can no longer afford to operate the facility. Officials cited an annual net loss of up to $200,000 to operate the Given.

The unnamed buyer CU has been courting didn’t want the property unless the buildings on it were demolished. The buyer was offering $17 million for the land.

In subsequent deals, the university has been willing to sell it for $15 million, according to a modified version of the MOU.

By signing the MOU, CU would have agreed not to demolish the buildings until after the Nov. 2 election.

In the weeks following CU’s announcement, members of the community and the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission launched an effort to save the building, which has been used for science conferences for more than three decades.

There were worries that a request to buy the property for the original $17 million would be a tough sell to voters on the November ballot, which might have two other tax increase-related items on it.

“I think the bigger thing about it … is it’s a losing proposition,” said Sarah Broughton, vice chairwoman of the commission.

A grassroots organization of people interested in saving the Given gathered recently to establish potential partnerships with other entities around Aspen to raise funds for the purchase.

Supporters of the effort will have a chance to come forward Sept. 13, Ireland said.

The late Aspen philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke donated the property to the university about 40 years ago. It has been used as a venue for medical forums in accordance with Paepcke’s wishes.