Aspen’s Paepcke Auditorium wins expansion approval |

Aspen’s Paepcke Auditorium wins expansion approval

ASPEN ” The public will soon have more places to sit down in Aspen’s Paepcke Auditorium.

The Aspen Institute received permission on Monday from the majority of the City Council to expand the auditorium by another 60 seats, from 346 to 406.

The institute also plans to build a permanent Greenwald Pavilion tent next to the auditorium, which will be reviewed in a separate application that has yet to be submitted. The tent is used between four and six times in the summer, with the Aspen Ideas Festival being the biggest event to use the tent.

The Paepcke Auditorium was constructed in the early 1960s, designed by Herbert Bayer and Fritz Benedict. The owner’s representative, Jim Curtis, said the aging building needs to be brought into the 21st century.

City Councilman Jack Johnson cast the sole vote against the application, saying the renovation would disturb Bayer’s original architecture.

The Aspen Institute is one component in the Aspen Meadows Specially Planned Area (SPA). The SPA is a process in which a site-specific development plan is created that encourages flexibility in developing land, and allows variations in land uses and dimensional requirements for the benefit of the public.

The council amended the SPA in order to increase seating capacity, adding 614 square feet ” 307 feet on each side ” of the facility. The current building is 17,805 square feet and includes a public gallery, library and administrative offices.

The $12 million renovation will include upgrades to the energy envelope of the building, with improvements to the heating, air-conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems. The building also will become ADA compliant, with access to the restrooms, lobby, back stage, administrative offices and seating in the auditorium. An interior reconfiguration of the lobby, the audio/visual projection room and a skylight are part of the expansion.

Curtis said when first analyzing the renovation to become ADA compliant, 45 seats would have been lost. He noted that it would have been difficult to raise money from donors for the renovation if fewer seats were available.

“Instead of looking at this as a problem, we decided it could be an opportunity,” Curtis told the council.

The council determined that the Aspen Institute campus and the Paepcke Auditorium should continue to be an “essential public facility,” as determined in the 1991 SPA.

“The Aspen Institute facilities are a major part of the history and cultural heritage of the community,” Curtis wrote in an August memo to city officials. “Most of the Aspen Institute programs open to the Aspen public are either free, by reservation or for a nominal fee.”

The institute asked that the council waive the affordable housing mitigation requirements since the expansion won’t generate new employees.

The application didn’t propose additional parking, but events at Paepcke Auditorium are scheduled to minimize overlap with Music Tent events, and people are encouraged to walk, ride a bicycle or park in the MAA main parking lot, institute representatives said.

Officials in the city’s Community Development Department recommended the council approve the application with conditions; elected officials agreed.

The first condition is that the organization proves prior to getting a building permit and two years afterward that it has not increased the number of employees. The second is that the institute will provide a neighborhood safety study, and create pedestrian walkways and bikeways to connect the facility’s events to town, as well as improve mass transit to the campus.

Residents who live near the auditorium wrote in e-mails to city officials that while they support the institute, the expansion will pose traffic and parking problems. They asked for more parking, traffic-calming measures such as blocking some streets off and more police patrols.

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