Aspen Power Plant project gets mixed reception |

Aspen Power Plant project gets mixed reception

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Members of the Aspen Power Plant made their case to dozens of community members at a gathering Wednesday. The longtime home of the Aspen Art Museum, and currently a temporary spot for the Pitkin County Library, could be converted into space for a TV station, brewery, incubator space and special events.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

It won’t be a beer joint.

That was the message key players behind the Aspen Power Plant project offered at a meeting Wednesday to assuage concerns that the building will be converted to a party spot.

Instead, they touted the Aspen Power Plant — which would be located at the old Aspen Art Museum on the banks of the Roaring Fork River — as a stimulating office setting for upstart entrepreneurs as well as studio space for Channel 82 and a food-and-beverage post run by Aspen Brewing Co. The facility also would cater to special events.

The gathering, held at the city-owned Rio Grande Place above Taster’s Pizza, attracted dozens of people. Some were from the nearby Oklahoma Flats neighborhood; others were Aspen residents either opposed to or in support of the concept. Attorneys were in well supply, also, along with Ann Mullins and Art Daily, both members of the Aspen City Council.

The meeting was called by David Cook and Spencer McKnight, both co-owners of the television station, and Duncan Clauss, owner of Aspen Brewing Co. They were there to solicit feedback ahead of an April 18 deadline to show the city government, which owns the 7,200-square-foot Mill Street space, they’d reached an agreement with the neighbors.

Before the meeting, Jim True, the city’s attorney, said that deadline likely will be pushed back because some of the opposed residents, including Oklahoma Flats spokesman Bill Budinger, are out of town for much of this month.

Budinger said Oklahoma Flats neighbors weren’t made aware of the gathering until a few days ago.

“That was the first peep we heard from them since July,” he said by telephone from New York. “We were told by the city staff, in about the middle of March, that they had given the brewery until April 18 to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement with us.”

Cook said public outreach is key to prevailing in the court of public opinion. In March 2015, the City Council approved the group’s repurposing of the spot into a brewery, restaurant, TV studio, event space and incubator workspace.

The approval has been met with backlash by some community members who say a city-owned space should not be leased to for-profit ventures. Other finalists for the space included such nonprofits as the Aspen Science Center, the Red Brick Center for the Arts and GrassRoots TV.

In February, Aspen Power Plant Inc. registered as a nonprofit with the Colorado secretary of state, listing its directors as Clauss, Cook and McKnight, according to public records. One month later, Aspen Power Plant, a limited-liability company also controlled by the same trio that formed in June, as well as Gordon Bronson, dissolved. Bronson is no longer involved.

An April 1-dated email from Aspen lawyer Chris Bryan to Budinger and his attorney, Alan Schwartz, called the new entity “the Aspen Power Plant nonprofit association.”

Cook explained that the Aspen Power Plant LLC would contract out the space, or lease it, to the for-profit tenants. The incubator space would have 65 seats for both nonprofit and for-profit ventures, Cook said.

“Our primary focus is to give a home and a comfortable working environment to up to 65 entrepreneurs,” Cook said. “We just really want to drive home the point that our No. 1 priority is this collaborative working space.”

Attorney Matt Ferguson, on behalf of some Oklahoma Flats residents, said the neighborhood would support the concept if alcohol weren’t served. Cook, on several occasions, maintained that the business model calls for a brewery and suggested there’s little room for negotiating something different.

The building is zoned residential, which prompted resident Jim Ward to ask: “How many other areas does Aspen want to change the zoning so they can have another bar?” He said he supports a science center.

“It’s not at all, in any way, shape or form, a beer joint,” Cook countered, adding that the food-and-beverage element would include “organic small bites for breakfast, lunch and dinner” along with organic juices and other healthy fare.

Budinger said all of the Oklahoma Flats neighbors are opposed to serving alcohol. But homeowner Gerry Goldstein endorsed the project in its entirety.

“Most of the people that live down there don’t live down there,” he said. “They are second- and third-home owners.”

The area also could use some more vibrancy, Goldstein said, adding that the incubator space could help boost the entrepreneurial success of young, local business types.

Cook was asked about what it will take to change the zoning for the building. He said that was out of his partners’ and his bailiwick, referring those questions to City Hall.

Budinger said changing the zoning is a tricky proposition.

“Basically what’s at stake is the expansion of the urban core into a residential area,” Budinger said. “And that’s a hell of a precedent.”