Aspen Music Festival receives $25 million |

Aspen Music Festival receives $25 million

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Alan Fletcher, president of the Aspen Music Festival and School, said the organization is in the “quiet phase” of its current fundraising campaign. The volume on that effort, however, was pumped up considerably with the announcement Monday of the biggest single gift ever given to an Aspen organization.

Fletcher and Al Dietsch, the president of the Music Festival’s board of trustees, announced a $25 million donation to the nonprofit organization, given by Kay and Matthew Bucksbaum. The gift is intended for a variety of uses, but is principally targeted for the reconstruction of the music festival’s Castle Creek campus. The campus project, which is making its way through the governmental approval process, will be named the Matthew and Carolyn Bucksbaum Campus.

Fletcher, who assumed the leadership of the AMF in early 2006, added that the quiet phase refers to the early goings in a fundraising campaign. When approximately half the funds for the project are pledged, the effort gets a more public face, as the organization attempts to reach its final goal.

The Bucksbaums’ gift, stressed Fletcher, is significant enough to serve as a beacon toward other potential donors. “This will give us a tremendous platform, impetus and momentum in getting further donations,” said Fletcher. “The nature of this gift makes it possible to aim really high in our fundraising goals.”

The donation, announced at a press conference Monday at the Hotel Jerome, also allows the AMF to solidify its vision for the remaking of its Castle Creek campus. The 23-acre facility, which the AMF shares with the Aspen Country Day School, dates back to the mid-’60s. There has been scant renovation over the decades; several of the nine buildings have passed the point of rustic and have reached shabbiness. Although none of the AMF officials present at Monday’s announcement directly criticized the campus, instead stressed the beauty of the natural surroundings, there was a clear consensus that updating the facilities ” including practice rooms, rehearsal halls and administrative offices ” was necessary to maintaining the festival’s stature in the classical music world.

Fletcher noted that the largest of the festival’s five orchestras cannot rehearse on the campus; none of the current buildings is big enough. Al Dietsch said that the ultimate manifestation of the Bucksbaums’ gift would be having “facilities to match the quality of the music [the students] perform.”

Kay Bucksbaum, noting that she and Matthew have been attending Music Festival events since 1953, added that “We’ve toured the present facilities, and anyone who’s been down there is aware of the need” for an improved campus for the students. “I can’t imagine a school in a more beautiful spot. But it has aged.”

The preliminary plan for the new campus has been designed by two local outfits, Harry Teague Architects, and Design Workshop. Teague’s firm was also the architect of the AMF’s two most recent major projects: Harris Hall and the Benedict Music Tent. “He knows who we are and what we are, and nobody understands us better,” said Fletcher of Teague.

The proposed campus will maintain two current buildings: the administration building, a 19th-century structure which will become a student center; and the Country Day School’s administrative offices, built in 1994. The new campus, estimated to cost between $50 and $70 million, will feature 10 new buildings, including a rehearsal hall that will double as a Country Day School gymnasium.

The plan does not include any performance facility, a point emphasized by Fletcher. In the early ’90s, as Harris Hall was about to open, there was consternation among Aspenites about the true purpose of the venue. Some West End residents complained that the 500-seat theater was disingenuously proposed as a rehearsal hall, and quickly became used extensively for performances. Referencing that controversy, Fletcher stated, “We truly are not planning on performing on the campus.”

Also absent from the campus proposal is any residential component. Fletcher said that housing did not fit well with the presence of the Country Day School. He added that the AMF is in discussion with other entities ” including the city of Aspen, the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority ” about building more housing for its students, guests and staff. He expressed hope that the existing Marolt Ranch, which already houses music students in the summer (and is rented out to seasonal workers in the winter), could be expanded.

The master plan for the new campus was recommended for approval by the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission last month. Hearings before the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners are set to commence in January. Pending approval, construction of the campus could begin in late summer or early fall of 2008, with a three-year construction cycle contemplated.

Matthew Bucksbaum joined the board of trustees of the Aspen Music Festival in 1985, and served as board chairman from 1999-2002, and 2005-06. He was made a lifetime trustee in 2002. He and Kay gave the lead gift, of $5 million, for the last AMF fundraising campaign, in 1997.

Matthew Bucksbaum began his career in real estate by developing shopping malls in Iowa in the 1950s. He is chairman emeritus of General Growth Properties, Inc., one of the largest real estate investment trusts in the United States. The Bucksbaum family was ranked No. 258 on the 2006 Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, with an estimated wealth of $2.7 million.

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