Aspen Theatre comes out against Power Plant proposal

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
City Council's public lease discussions for the Aspen Power Plant project, which would be located at 590 N. Mill St., are set for Tuesday.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |

The leader of Theatre Aspen emailed city leaders and elected officials Wednesday expressing her opposition to the Aspen Power Plant project, saying it will disrupt the nonprofit’s summer programming.

“After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot in good conscience support the recent efforts of the entity seeking to occupy the Old Power House,” wrote Paige Price, executive artistic director of Theatre Aspen, in an email to city officials.

Recipients included Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron and the other four members of City Council as well as City Attorney Jim True and Assistant City Manager Barry Crook. Price provided the email to The Aspen Times after the newspaper requested it.

“I think the incubator/meeting space idea is fresh and laudable and understand the desire to open the gathering space out into the beautiful corner of the Rio Grande Park,” the email continues. “However, a beer garden or event schedule that invites people to gather outside to dine and drink would simply imperil our performances just a few yards over the bridge, near the John Denver Sanctuary.”

While some residents of the Oklahoma Flats neighborhood have publicly voiced opposition to the Aspen Power Plant project, Theatre Aspen — a short walk up the Rio Grande Trail from the proposed Power Plant venue — had been quiet about the matter. Price said Wednesday she sent the email, with the theater’s board of trustees’ support, to ensure the organization’s concerns were heard.

The Aspen Power Plant proposal includes an office setting for upstart entrepreneurs as well as studio space for the Aspen 82 television station and a food-and-beverage post run by Aspen Brewing Co. The facility also would cater to special events.

Organizers of the Power Plant proposal received approval from City Council in March 2015 to inhabit the 7,200-square-foot Mill Street space, a riverside building that is owned by the city and now a make-shift space for Pitkin County Library while its permanent facilities are remodeled and expanded. Prior to that, it was home to the Aspen Art Museum.

The City Council still needs to approve the lease for the property, and Power Plant officials are aiming to reach some type of compromise with residents of the Oklahoma Flats neighborhood. Some of those neighbors oppose the project because of its alcohol service; they contend it would deteriorate their quality of life and harm their property values.

Aspen Brewing Co. owner Duncan Clauss said he read Price’s email Wednesday morning and believes the Power Plant can find some common ground with the theater and neighbors.

“We think there’s a great opportunity for us to complement their programming,” he said. “We’ve conveyed to Theatre Aspen that we’re looking forward to being a great neighbor to them and complement to them, and in no way do we have the intention or goal to disrupt their programming and performances.”

Price’s email notes that the summer season spans nine weeks with more than 60 performances that draw nearly 10,000 spectators.

“If I seem overprotective, it is because I have come to the conclusion that we must protect our business,” Price wrote. “We have worked extremely hard to earn our place in this beautiful city park and to do our part to make it a ‘must visit’ location for visitors and locals alike. We even lowered our prices this season to ensure that accessibility is a priority.

“When given the chance, we strive to cooperate with other organizations who wish to be in the park for events (Ducky Derby, Komen, Food & Wine), recognizing that we don’t have a monopoly in the park and that the recent upgrades make it one of the most desirable locations in Aspen. But we simply must ensure that our patron experience is protected, since only a vinyl wall separates us from the noise outside.”

Clauss said he is confident that an upcoming noise study would calm concerns of neighbors and the theatre. Earlier this week, the Power Plant group lined up a sound technician who will conduct noise studies at the property, Duncan said, noting his hope is to have Theatre Aspen and the neighbors have a role in the noise mitigation.

“We are very willing to try to figure this out so it works for everybody,” he said. “I think a lot of the neighbors’ concerns, and even Theatre Aspen’s, are based on quick assumptions, and I think we’ve shown our willingness to figure this out so it works for our neighbors, Theatre Aspen and the entire community.”

Price’s letter offers an opposite point of view: “I, along with the board of trustees, acknowledge and very much appreciate the city’s protection of Theatre Aspen’s schedule of performances during this process. And following my conversation with the city (Tuesday), we tried to consider what information a decibel test could offer. However, our experience with noise in the park tells us that if we can hear skateboarders and people walking and talking through the sanctuary, an outdoor gathering of people with music is not realistic. The erection of sound barriers does not seem viable in such a wide open space.”