Downtown Aspen properties get go-ahead for new performing center
With clear support from Aspen City Council on Monday, a new jazz center with performance space can now be built above the historic Red Onion.
Council declined to call up the Aug. 14 decision from the city’s historic preservation commission approving the remodeling of the Red Onion and adjacent buildings on the Cooper Avenue Mall.
Now developer Mark Hunt, who owns the properties at 416, 420 and 422 E. Cooper Ave., can redevelop them into a space for Jazz Aspen Snowmass to occupy.
It will be used as a live music venue, rehearsal space and educational programming, as well as a gathering area for community organizations and nonprofits.
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“It’s an interesting and exciting plan,” Mayor Torre said during Monday’s meeting.
With HPC’s approval, Hunt is now in a position to apply for building permits, which he estimated in August could be within four to six weeks.
JAS announced last year that it was under contract with Hunt to purchase the second floor of the Red Onion building and adjacent spaces for $15 million for a new performance center.
As part of the contract, Hunt will build out the spaces to suit JAS’ needs. The deal closes when the space is complete.
HPC was the reviewing body because the properties are in the city’s downtown historic district and the Red Onion building is designated historic.
The plans call for roughly a 1,700-square-foot expansion of the space and will connect with the nearby Bidwell building, also owned by Hunt and approved for a renovation.
JAS’ plan includes a pedestrian mall front entrance in the building east of the Red Onion that will be a two-story gallery and exhibition space displaying artist photos from JAS’ 28-year collection.
A new terrace will be built off the second floor on the building west of the Red Onion. That space will connect to the top level of the original Red Onion, where there will be a bar with direct sight lines to an elevated stage.
That performance area, located above what are now an empty storefront and a clothing store, will feature a terrace overlooking the mall that offers a stage view for people sitting outside during the summer.
The venue will hold between 125 and 250 people, according to Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of JAS.
He did not make any public comment at Monday’s meeting, except to show a blown-up 1950s photo of Billie Holiday in the front of the Red Onion with skis slung over her shoulders.
Bringing jazz back to that location will honor the rich music history that occurred several decades ago at the Red Onion, where Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Ray Brown all performed, among other legends.
Horowitz has said previously that establishing a permanent home for JAS in Aspen’s core has been central in the nonprofit’s strategic plan.
With approvals in hand, Horowitz and JAS can launch a planned $25 million capital campaign of which $7.5 million has been pledged.
The first phase is $15 million and the rest will come in the form of naming rights as the project progresses.
Horowitz explained at the HPC meeting in August that the popularity of the JAS Cafe series and the importance of ongoing educational programs are indicators of how badly a permanent home is needed.
“There are four purposes and uses and the first is the education programs,” Horowitz said, according to the HPC minutes. “We are always hurting to find a place for young musicians to have a rehearsal or a lesson.
“The JAS Academy is a one-of-a-kind program and we will be expanding it to four weeks starting in 2021,” he continued. “The JAS Cafe runs 36 nights a year, between winter and summer and have used various spots all around town. We never know where we will be, so it will be nice to have a home for this.”
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.