Basalt river center seeks funds after earning OK

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy of Roaring Fork ConservancyThis architect's rendering shows one of the featured buildings at a proposed River Center in Basalt. The first phase will include more than half of this building. The center will eventually have 8,055 square feet of space.

BASALT – A nonprofit organization dedicated to water quality and quantity issues hopes to harness a flood of support for its effort to build a river center in Basalt after earning approval from the town government Tuesday night.

The Basalt Town Council voted 5-0 to approve the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s proposed 8,055-square-foot facility. It will be built beside the signature pond of Old Pond Park, just west of downtown Basalt next to Taqueria el Nopal restaurant.

The council and Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission gave conceptual approval to the project in June, but raised numerous concerns about the size and massing. The conservancy staff reworked the proposal with architect Harry Teague and earned praise Tuesday night during a joint hearing of the Basalt boards.

“I think this is a huge improvement,” said Councilwoman Anne Freedman. Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer concurred. “I’m so much happier with this,” she said.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bill Maron noted that the conservancy had wanted a quick review last year so it could focus on raising funds to build the river center. However, he said, the extra effort spent reworking the plan was “time well spent.”

Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro said Wednesday the result “was a much better design.”

In a nutshell, the new plan improves access to the pond in the town-owned Old Pond Park. The west wing and south side of the river center were pulled back from where they were originally planned. Town officials claimed in June that the design at that time created the ironic condition of presenting a visual and physical barrier to the Roaring Fork River and Old Pond.

The river center is envisioned as a hybrid building – equal parts laboratory, exhibit hall, classroom, observation space and office. The conservancy touts the proposed building as a center befitting of the 1,451-square-mile Roaring Fork Watershed that supports gold-medal trout streams, hundreds of thousands of acres of Wilderness and a complex ecosystem dependent on rivers, streams and wetlands.

The plan is to build the center in phases, as funds allow. The first phase will be about 4,500 square feet; the second phase will be about 1,500 square feet; and the final phase will be nearly 2,000 square feet.

“This will significantly jump-start our fundraising efforts,” Lofaro said Wednesday, referring to the council approval. Many potential donors wanted to wait until the approval was in hand before they followed through with their financial commitments, he said.

The first phase of the river center is estimated to cost $6 million. The conservancy has commitments for $2.2 million, according to Lofaro. Taking on a major capital campaign was daunting during the recession, Lofaro said, but the conservancy found success nevertheless. He is optimistic about finding the remaining funds now that the economy shows signs of recovery.

The conservancy hired Sarah Woods as director of philanthropy in December. She succeeded Carlyle Kyzer, who took a position as executive director of the Wyly Community Arts Center.

Ground-breaking depends on the fundraising success. “Internally and externally we really need to create a sense of urgency,” Lofaro said.

More on the river center can be found at then clicking on “River Center.”