Council narrows City Hall options to two | AspenTimes.com

Council narrows City Hall options to two

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The Aspen City Council narrowed its list of potential City Hall upgrades to two Monday, with one option that would see a two-story addition to the historic building and another option that would relocate its operations to Galena Plaza.

In a comprehensive space-needs study of city departments, officials have identified a shortfall of about 50,000 square feet in downtown-core operations. The first option, which four council members initially supported in August, calls for a City Hall renovation and the construction of a new 30,000- to 40,000-square-foot building at 540 E. Main St. A new Aspen Police Department would occupy about 15,000 square feet of the new space, while the city plans to repurpose the Rio Grande and Galena Plaza buildings. The estimated cost of this plan is $37 million.

The second option, priced at $40 million, would see the Galena Plaza building expanded into a new City Hall and a new police department built at 540 E. Main St. or nearby on Mill Street. Capital asset project manager Jack Wheeler said this option would include about 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of new space for city offices and 16,000 square feet for the new police facility. The Rio Grande building would also be restructured.

At two open houses last week, the second option garnered much enthusiasm from the public, Wheeler said, as it is expected to increase activity at the Rio Grande parking garage and Galena Plaza. However, this option also calls for an estimated $6 million to $9 million renovation at City Hall in order to repurpose it for public use. Councilwoman Ann Mullins, who was in support of the second option, pointed out that there is a lot of money in state grants available for historic restoration, so the city would not be footing the entire bill.

City Manager Steve Barwick said the city has saved about $11 million through the general fund toward the effort, and right now, no tax increase is necessary to fund the project. The rest of the expense would be paid with long-term financing, he said, through city budget sources and money saved from moving city operations currently leasing spaces around town.

Councilman Adam Frisch, who was originally in favor of the City Hall addition, said he now sees potential for the Galena Plaza concept. He pointed out that he has learned there is demand for public use at city facilities while searching for a new tenant at the old Aspen Art Museum space on Mill Street.

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"That part of it is growing in my value of appreciation," Frisch said, adding that creating a civic center at Galena Plaza is worth fleshing out.

Wheeler said there is the possibility of returning with a hybrid of both options. He hopes to come back to council in March with both ideas fully fleshed out.

Councilman Art Daily said he's happy to wait and see what transpires, while Mayor Steve Skadron said he still likes the City Hall addition option but sees merit with the Galena Plaza civic center.

In other business

The council continues to leave open the option for subsidizing six single-family homes in the $1.1 million price range at Burlingame Ranch Phase II, with three council members voicing support and two speaking against the idea.

The council began talks in December, when Frisch said there's a pricing gap in Aspen where some dual-income families make too much money to qualify for upper-category units but can't afford million-dollar homes on the free market. While Skadron said he can appreciate the absurdity of discussing subsidy for affordable housing in this price range, the nature of the housing program calls for the need to create opportunities for a diverse workforce.

"It reflects the reality of the community we live in," Skadron said.

Frisch, who was aligned with Skadron and Councilman Dwayne Romero on the idea of subsidy in the $250,000 range, said Aspen's residents living in higher-income housing, such as categories 6 and 7, have the same right to subsidy as those living in categories 2 and 3.

Councilman Art Daily pointed out that up to this point, previous council direction for such units has been to forgo subsidy.

"I haven't heard anything tonight that suggests that policy ought to be changed," Daily said, to which Mullins agreed.

Based on Monday's direction, which is not official, the first two three-bedroom units would be built at 2,700 square feet, while the second two would be built at 1,800 square feet. The size of the final two would be decided at a later date.

The council is expected to revisit the item at a future work session.

herk@aspentimes.com

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