‘Community use’ picked for Armory | AspenTimes.com

‘Community use’ picked for Armory

In a close advisory vote, the Armory building's use as a community center passed Tuesday. But what will happen next with the site remains largely unknown.

Aspen voters cast their ballots in slight favor of repurposing the Armory building, where City Hall is currently located, to a community-use center.

While still unofficial, the final vote as of Tuesday night showed 51.58 percent, or 1,396 voters, supporting the Armory building's use as a community center, and 48.42 percent, or 1,313 voters, opting for the space to remain as city offices.

The vote is not binding, but it gives city leaders a sense of what the electorate wants for the space.

The city asked voters to choose between the Armory building's use as a community center or city offices for the next 50 years following the Aspen City Council's Aug. 3 decision to relocate its operations to its future Galena Street site.

The Armory building was a community center for 65 years until it became City Hall in 1957, said Jeanette Darnauer, whose marketing and public-relations group, Darnauer Group Marketing & PR, campaigned for the Armory building's repurposing.

If returned to its historical use, the Galena Plaza will likely house all of the city's future offices.

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This means the new Galena plaza will likely be about 20,000 more square feet than if some city office spaces remained in the Armory building, according to Capital Asset Director Jack Wheeler.

Some opponents of the Armory building's use as a community center criticized the additional square feet for city offices.

While former City Councilman Torre said he agrees the city needs new office spaces, he hoped the city would have done more to minimize its footprint.

Torre said he also had an issue with the wording of the ballot question.

The ballot question read, "Which use for the Aspen Armory site (City Hall) do you prefer for a long-range, 50 year plan? Community Use or City Offices?"

Torre said he thinks the ballot question supported the direction the city has put forth over the past few years and that it failed speak to the larger picture.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins also raised concern with the advisory question's language during an Aug. 24 City Council meeting.

Mullins expressed support of the vote at the meeting but said the city must be careful with the simplicity of the ballot question so that the community understood what it was voting on.

City Attorney Jim True said that while the city has some options in disseminating the information, it also must recognize its code restrictions.

Former Mayor Mick Ireland is another Aspen politician to openly support the Armory building's use as a community center.

In a previous interview with The Aspen Times, Ireland said he doesn't think the city's current arrangement scattered around town serves the public or builds teamwork.

Ireland said he believes in face-to-face contact among staff rather than emails and phone calls from one building to another.

In terms of productivity, Darnauer agreed with Ireland and said it is terrible customer service to require residents to visit so many locations to get the city services they need.

Not everyone sees it this way.

City Councilman Bert Myrin, who was the dissenting vote in the 4-1 Aug. 3 decision to move forward with the Galena site, said walking in town from one building to the next is part of what makes Aspen special.

Aspen NextGen Chairman Skippy Mesirow, who is also an opponent of the Galena project and the Armory's use as a community center, argued the project is a wild misuse of taxpayer funds.

"If we're going to repurpose the Armory, I think there should be a full request-for-proposal process open to all," Mesirow said Tuesday.

Developer Bruce Etkin, who vowed $100,000 to fund the study of the Armory building as a community-use site, said he campaigned for the Armory's use as a community center because the opportunity to renovate the building to its historical use fascinates him.

Etkin, who has three children who've gone to school in Aspen, said the benefits will be 1,000-fold for Aspen's future generations.

Ashley Feddersen, who works for Etkin, said she doesn't understand how anyone can oppose community use for the town.

Feddersen argued a true need for more meeting and event space in Aspen.

In the time she's spent meeting with groups in the community, Feddersen said she's heard from many longtime residents that Aspen used to have a real sense of community that has since moved out of the core.

"People of all ages will be able to come together to share stories, music, discussions, activities," Darnauer said, adding that, "it gives Aspen a universal and affordable place to connect with others."

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