City thinks big with civic plan |

City thinks big with civic plan

Allyn Harvey

Armed with one of the largest budget surpluses in the state, if not the country, the city of Aspen may soon consider transforming its hodgepodge of public buildings – some more than a century old – into a bright and shiny civic center.

No, that doesn’t mean demolition of the county courthouse or City Hall. It means rethinking the way a large section of downtown Aspen is organized.

And though it’s just an idea right now, the plan could burgeon into an all-in-one government campus/public safety center/affordable housing enclave/citizen activity center.

The area under consideration is bordered by Hopkins Avenue on the south and the Aspen Art Museum on the north, according to a memo from the city planning staff. It runs along Mill Street from the Isis Theatre to the Aspen Art Museum on the north side of the Roaring Fork. On the east it is bordered by Hunter Street, running north from Hopkins. In includes City Hall, the county courthouse, the fire station, the library, the county annex and all of Rio Grande Park.

The plan calls for building additional office space to house the growing work forces of both the city and county, moving the fire station out of the commercial core and onto Main Street, building affordable housing north of the Community Bank of Aspen, adding a skateboard park next to Rio Grande Park and shoring up the weatherproofing of the public parking garage.

It would also give the city another chance to consider use of the plaza that borders the library.

“The plaza has been offered – at no charge – for special events such as the Farmer’s Market and the Food and Wine Classic with essentially no interest. Furthermore, this plaza requires a high level of maintenance by the Parks Department – disproportionate with the amount of activity it sustains,” the memo says.

City planner Chris Bendon said the idea, which came out of recent discussions about the youth center, the fire station and the need for more public meeting space, is in its infancy and hasn’t been scheduled for a City Council planning session yet.

No sketches have been drawn and no building sites have been studied, but the staff memo suggests a master plan be put together by a citizens committee made up of private property owners and representatives from government agencies in the proposed area. A possible source of funding would be $25,000 of planning money currently budgeted by the planning department.

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