Board eyes renovation for Wheeler | AspenTimes.com

Board eyes renovation for Wheeler

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Wheeler Opera House board of directors hopes a pending renovation will give both the landmark’s box office and visitor’s center a little more elbow room.

The Wheeler box office and an Aspen Chamber Resort Association visitor’s center currently operate in a single space, located at the opera house’s main entrance near the corner of Hyman Avenue and Mill Street. However, a Wheeler board retreat in June helped members outline a number of things they’d like to see accomplished in a first-floor remodel. Separating the box office and visitor’s center operations was first on their list.

“This separation is important for circulation, customer service, etc., but may not be a total physical separation,” the board wrote in its master plan summary.

The summary, presented to members of the Aspen City Council on Tuesday night, also highlighted the board’s goal to make sure all first-floor operations “integrate, support or compliment what is happening in other parts of the building.”

Leases for the Wheeler’s other ground-floor businesses, Bentley’s restaurant and a small art gallery, will expire in December 2003. The year before the leases lapse will give the board time to determine the best use for the spaces, board members said.

“We’re not saying bye-bye to Bentley’s, necessarily,” said board member Georgia Hanson.

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Until 1980, the space now occupied by Bentley’s was one large visitor’s center, the board reported. The Wheeler wouldn’t have to take such a drastic step to allow the visitor’s center room to move, board members noted.

The board finished a short presentation with a request that the council offer “an appropriate scope of work” during the Wheeler renovation project.

Though board and council members differed in their opinions of Bentley’s ? the noisy tavern won’t likely attract attendees of a Wheeler opera or ballet performance, one board member complained ? Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said the business is known for pulling crowds to that side of the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall.

“Bentley’s adds a lot of activity … an eating establishment there is important,” Klanderud said.

The council stressed that, though the ACRA recently created a visitor’s center near Rio Grande Park, the group should keep a window open at a high-profile location like the Wheeler. Councilman Tony Hershey noted that the downtown visitor’s center constantly attracts tourists with plenty of questions about their vacations.

The Wheeler board also stressed the importance of a box office that could become “central for all activities” in Aspen. It’s getting close to its goal already ? the Wheeler box office generated $90,000 worth of activity over the weekend from Jazz Aspen Snowmass ticket sales, the board reported.

The board expects to hire a professional team to help with renovation plans by the end of the month.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]