Aspen Public Radio eyes Wheeler expansion |

Aspen Public Radio eyes Wheeler expansion

ASPEN – The Wheeler Opera House’s expansion plans appear to include Aspen Public Radio, it was revealed at Monday’s Aspen City Council meeting.

Wheeler Executive Director Gram Slaton and Andrew Todd, who runs APR, have been in discussions to move the station to the expanded Wheeler, should the project come to fruition. The station currently operates out of the Red Brick Center for the Arts, which houses local nonprofits for cut-rate rent.

“It’s just something we have discussed at some length, since it would answer needs for both of us,” Slaton said in an e-mail Tuesday. “It’s not a perfect fit, but I think it would be a better fit than what they have over at the Red Brick – more space, access to a performance venue for quick access to visiting artists, etc.”

APR would have to go through a request for proposals process, Slaton and Mayor Mick Ireland said.

Should APR, originally known as KAJX, move in, a satellite dish would be needed. However, it’s unclear if the APR would be able to transmit a signal from the Wheeler. Todd said any questions about transmission issues are “strictly hypothetical,” and declined to comment on whether the station would be capable of transmitting from the Wheeler.

“If the process for the Wheeler expansion continues to move forward, Aspen Public Radio would have an interest, as many entities would,” Todd said in an e-mail.

Slaton said the presence of a dish on the roof would not be unprecedented.

“We’ve had satellite dishes on the Wheeler roof before, usually not permanently (although I believe we have a little one up there now for Bentley’s),” he said. “Dishes typically aren’t visible to the public unless you’re on top of Haystack and have a pair of binoculars. That was certainly the case when Plum TV kept a dish on our roof for a season, and when the Aspen Music Festival used a dish for a back-up in terms of the simulcast onto the Jumbotron in Wagner Park.”

Meanwhile, the proposed $30 million expansion of the Wheeler inched closer to gaining conceptual approval from the Aspen City Council, whose members said Monday they still want more details about the funding for the project, how the space would be used, and the public benefit of the project.

“The examining of the long-term financial picture is incumbent upon us,” Ireland said.

Slaton and the architectural team for the expansion of the Wheeler are scheduled to continue the discussion Dec. 7. The proposal remains in its conceptual phase, and cannot move forward without council approval.

Slaton said the $30 million, 32,000-square-foot expansion would be funded by the $27 million Wheeler’s endowment fund, with another $3 million needed.

About $2.7 million is projected in Real Estate Transfer Tax revenues for Wheeler coffers this year.

Wheeler officials presented council with a financial pro forma regarding the expansion, which includes a three-level facility that would be located west of the existing opera house, on a vacant parcel the city bought in 1982.

Approximately 19,816 square feet would be reserved for commercial use; 9,757 square feet would be designated for arts, cultural and civic use; and another 2,521 square feet would be for affordable housing and office space.

The new venue would accommodate up to 265 patrons (the existing Wheeler Opera House has 503 seats). Wheeler officials, using what they said was a “conservative estimate,” said the new venue would play host to 30 Wheeler events, 50 events presented by local arts groups, 100 movie screening and 20 rehearsal dates.

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