Developer: honor the will of Aspen voters |

Developer: honor the will of Aspen voters

Aspen resident Bruce Etkin plans to urge Aspen City Council tonight to honor November's advisory vote that would allow him to spend $100,000 on a study to research the feasibility of converting City Hall to a community center. Ashley Feddersen, on the left, is the project manager for his proposal.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Last November, Aspen’s electorate narrowly approved a ballot question that asked whether the Armory Building should be converted from its existing City Hall offices to a community center.

The question, however, was advisory only, meaning the vote wasn’t binding.

But Front Range hotel developer and Aspen resident Bruce Etkin said he believes the will of the 1,423 people, or the 51.65 percent of voters who favored a community center, should be honored. He’ll get his chance today to persuade Aspen City Council to give him the go-ahead to spend $100,000 of his own money to conduct studies on what it would take to remodel the building into a community center.

“One hundred thousand dollars is more than ample to do the studies,” Etkin said last week in an interview with The Aspen Times.

Etkin also has enlisted the aid of Mick Ireland, an opinion writer for the Aspen Daily News and former Aspen mayor, as a consultant on his proposal.

“You should have the moral leverage and common sense to honor the vote and at least study the issue,” Ireland said.

Question 2B was one of the later entries to last fall’s ballot. The Aspen public relations firm Darnauer Group led the 69-day campaign charge to gain support for the measure. Darnauer not only won at the polls but also picked up Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil Award on June 9 in New York City for the campaign.

Question 2B was simple in its language: “Which use for the Aspen Armory Site (current City Hall) do you prefer for a long-range, 50-year plan?” The two options were “community use” and “city offices.”

But perhaps it was too simple, Mayor Steve Skadron said Monday.

“There was some concern in the community that the question on the ballot lacked clarity,” he said. “Had the question said, ‘Do you support a (city hall) building at 50,000 square feet in order to free up the Armory space (for a community center)?’ — perhaps that would have worked.”

One part of the puzzle

City Council’s work session that begins at 4 p.m. today at City Hall is the continuation of a civic master plan process that started in 2003.

City officials have contended that the existing 19,800-square-foot City Hall isn’t up to muster for providing effective or efficient governance and customer service. Other city offices are scattered around town, leading city staffers to favor the so-called one-roof solution, which would include the construction of a 51,900-square-foot building at 425 and 455 Rio Grande Place.

Approval of construction of that building would allow Etkin to launch his $100,000 study into a community center, one he envisions would host dances, club meetings, fundraisers, live music and other events organized by the Wheeler Opera House. It also would recharge a part of downtown, located at the corner of South Galena Street and East Hopkins Avenue, during the nighttime hours, he said. Etkin also expressed confidence that he could raise what he believes is $10 million for the conversion through private donations.

But on July 19, nearly one year after the council voiced informal support for the one-roof solution, City Council reversed its field and told its staff to put the one-roof option on hold to thoroughly examine other scenarios.

Two council members, Art Daily and Ann Mullins, said they supported the one-roof option, with an estimated cost of $31.3 million, and converting City Hall to a community center. But they were outnumbered by Skadron and Councilmen Bert Myrin and Adam Frisch, who directed staff members to look at two other options — constructing a smaller civic building at 425 and 455 Rio Grande Place, the same address envisioned for the larger City Hall, or renovating the existing City Hall building. Or, a combination of various scenarios could be employed, they said.

A Friday memo from Jack Wheeler, the city’s capital asset manager, to the council explains that one option would include the construction of a 28,400-square-foot civic building at Rio Grande Place while remodeling City Hall. Under that plan, another 6,400 square feet of existing space at 455 Rio Grand Place would be for civic use, while the former Aspen Art Museum building would not be used for city offices. The estimated cost for such a project — its grand total is 54,600 square feet of city space — is $35.9 million to $38.6 million under current market pricing, according to Wheeler’s memo.

Another option is using the old Art Museum space for city offices as part of the equation. But last week, City Council approved using the old Art Museum’s 590 N. Mill St. building, which encompasses 7,200 square feet, for temporary city offices, while its permanent function would be for community use.

Even so, Wheeler’s memo explores the possibility of using the Mill Street building for permanent city offices along with a remodeling of City Hall, building a 20,400-square-foot civic building on Rio Grande Place, and using 6,400 square feet of existing space on Rio Grande. The estimated cost of that scheme is $35 million to $38 million.

Skadron said he wasn’t ruling out anything, but all avenues should be explored.

“I think the community needs to see what the costs are and to see more details of the alternative (to a one-roof option),” he said.

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