Does Aspen need another performing arts theater? |

Does Aspen need another performing arts theater?

Janet Urquhart

Aspen needs to step back from talk of a new performing arts facility until it’s sure such a venue is necessary, a city advisory group agreed Thursday.The Civic Master Plan Advisory Committee had previously endorsed the notion of a multiuse performance facility off Rio Grande Place, at the northern edge of the Library Plaza. Fueling the idea, Theatre Aspen, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and Aspen Filmfest have all discussed a joint project that would provide a home not only for their programs, but serve other theater/auditorium needs, as well. The City Council, too, liked the concept and encouraged its pursuit when it was discussed last February.The advisory group, which is working on a master plan for the future of various public properties, still envisions some sort of building on the northern edge of the plaza to bring some activity to that area, but whether it will be a theater facility is up in the air.Before the committee makes that recommendation, it needs to make a case for such a facility, urged Ben Gagnon, special projects planner with the city.”We see a potential for it – another venue – but we need more evidence,” Gagnon said. “It’s a huge undertaking … we need to prove the case.”An inventory of existing venues and what local arts and cultural groups need should be the first step, according to Gagnon. New management and a new direction at the city’s Wheeler Opera House and future plans to expand onto the vacant lot next to the opera house, may also play a role in the discussion, he noted. A consultant has recommended the Wheeler become more accessible to local arts groups.Theatre Aspen, anxious to move into a larger, more permanent facility than its summertime tent at Rio Grande Park, has spearheaded talk of a new theater space, which could be built onto the front of the Rio Grande parking garage and spill over onto the Library Plaza, which is the roof of the garage. The plaza, located at the northern end of Galena Street, currently overlooks the park.Theatre Aspen’s tent has another three to four years of useful life left in it. Then it plans to relocate – whether it’s to the edge of the plaza or somewhere else, said David McClendon, artistic director for the organization and a member of the committee.Nonetheless, he did not view yesterday’s development as a setback to Theatre Aspen’s hopes for a new home.”I don’t really look at it as a backing off. Actually, I look at it as a positive,” he said. “It’s a huge project … it’s something we need to be careful and methodical about.”In the meantime, the city will be pushing ahead with the replacement of the leaking parking garage roof – in essence rebuilding the plaza – and the committee endorsed installing anchors in the plaza to accommodate the erection of tents there. That could mean Theatre Aspen places its tent in the plaza as an interim new locale, and that other functions could also place a tent there for temporary uses.A tent on the plaza would be a step up for Theatre Aspen, though its aim is still a permanent structure, McClendon said.”It gives us higher visibility and equates our organization with the [Library] Plaza site,” he said. “Certainly it interests us. It very much would be a positive experience for us and our audience.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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