Basalt river center receives final approval, aims for 2017 ground breaking |

Basalt river center receives final approval, aims for 2017 ground breaking

This architect's rendering shows the proposed River Center in Basalt at full build-out. The first phase has been pared down over the years to 4,200 square feet.
Roaring Fork Conservancy/courtesy image |

A 14-year-old dream of building a river center in Basalt moved closer to reality Tuesday when the Town Council voted 6-1 to approve the structure.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy wants to build a 4,200-square-foot center west of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center along Two Rivers Road. Old Pond Park is adjacent to the site and the Roaring Fork River is in the backyard.

The river center and great outdoor setting would allow the Conservancy to carry on its mission to educate people on water quality and quantity issues in the Roaring Fork watershed.

“This to me is finally an opportunity to get this moving,” Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said.

Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle cast the lone vote against the project. She wanted to continue the hearing to work on details of the lease.

The river center has been contemplated since 2003, when the nonprofit started negotiating to obtain the land. Fundraising proved to be a challenge in the early years, particularly during the recession. The Conservancy pared down the project to increase the appeal to prospective donors.

“We’d really like to get going (on construction) in spring or summer,” Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro said.

Construction would take about one year, he said. If the river center proves to be as successful as Conservancy officials suspect, space would be added in the future.

Consultant: No red flags

The project went before the council in July for first-round approval of its reworked proposal. At that time, council members Riffle and Katie Schwoerer said they would only grant final approval if certain conditions were met. They asked for details on the Conservancy’s ability to fund construction of the center and operate it for the long haul. They also wanted assurance of ongoing public use of the facility.

The town is providing the land for the center. It initially sold .37 of an acre to the Conservancy, but it bought the land back to provide the nonprofit with money for construction. The Conservancy will receive a long-term lease.

The town’s financial consultant, Bruce Kimmel, examined the Conservancy’s books and advised the council he didn’t see any red flags. The construction budget is $3.32 million. The Conservancy has $1.23 million cash on hand as well as $621,000 in pledges, according to Kimmel’s report. It has about $740,000 in other potential funding sources, including a mortgage. That leaves $478,000 remaining to raise, Kimmel wrote.

He said he was convinced the organization has a solid plan for operations.

“In sum, we believe that RFC has demonstrated that it understands the major variables of the proposed river center and that it has a viable plan for developing and operating the project,” Kimmel concluded.

‘Bring people together’

Pat McMahon, president of the Conservancy’s board of directors, said the information sought by the town helped the organization arrange its finances.

“The Conservancy is in better financial shape now than it’s probably ever been,” McMahon said.

Lofaro provided a memo on the vision for the facility.

“The river center will host water-related education seminars, meetings and classes in the facility, adjacent park and along the Roaring Fork,” he wrote. It will provide laboratory space for citizen science, a place for river research and analysis. “(It) will bring people together for learning and discussing river issues,” he concluded.

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