Downtown development returns to Aspen’s radar |

Downtown development returns to Aspen’s radar

ASPEN – Five years into planning, the team in charge of redesigning one of the most prominent buildings in downtown Aspen is once again making changes in hopes that the City Council will approve its demolition.

Mitch Haas, the land-use planner overseeing the redevelopment plan for the Mountain Plaza Building – located on the northwest corner of Galena Street and the Cooper Avenue Mall – plans to send a letter to city officials this week that outlines changes to the proposal.

A public hearing is scheduled in front of the Aspen City Council April 26, but Haas and Mark Bidwell, the owner of the building, first want to see if officials are receptive to their changes.

The last time the proposal was reviewed was in January, and the resounding message from council members and residents was that the impacts from construction would be too great at what’s been characterized as the premiere corner of downtown Aspen.

Changes to the proposal mostly revolve around that issue, Haas said.

“We’re definitely going to make construction shorter and less of a burden,” he said. “We’ve gotten every construction management plan from projects over the last five or six years, and [are] taking the best parts of them.”

In January, Haas said the construction would take 30 months, with 20 of them impacting surrounding neighbors and general activity in the downtown core the most.

There also will be changes to the development proposal itself – although they will be minimal.

“To be honest, I don’t know what else we can do beyond these changes,” Haas said. “We think it’s a worthwhile project.”

Others, however, don’t. A group of local residents have started a cyber campaign, asking people via e-mail to help oppose the project.

A committee called Friends of the Downtown Core was formed by Terry Butler, Junee Kirk, Peggy McCafferty and Hal Craft.

A blast e-mail sent in February asks for people to help convince the City Council to deny the building’s demolition and redevelopment. They say the project is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and claim that it would be disruptive to downtown, and would negatively impact businesses, cause congestion, noise and debris, which will shut down Galena Street for through traffic and pedestrians for many years.

Haas said he and his client have attempted to work with neighbors to come to a compromise. But that effort has been futile thus far.

Kirk Wong, the longtime owner of the building next door to Mountain Plaza where Butler’s hotel is, sent a letter to the council supporting the project, saying it will revitalize the area.

Those who support the project have cited that the aging building causes problems for tenants, including the plumbing, heating, electrical and exterior systems. As such, the decades-old building needs a complete overhaul.

In January, council members said the latest version of the proposal had made great strides to address previous concerns, but it wasn’t enough. They said they could support the project if the development team can address all of their concerns.

Under the proposal unveiled in January, the courtyard, which is one of the building’s more recognizable features, would be eliminated.

The street level would contain four commercial spaces, a pedestrian area along the mall and an entryway to the basement and upper floors.

The mixed-use project includes three levels from the street and two below ground. The entire building would contain commercial space, affordable housing and free-market residential units. Commercial space accounts for 11,433 square feet; affordable housing takes up 1,567 square feet; and free-market residential is 5,078 square feet.

The below-ground space includes two levels, which would accommodate a 10-car parking garage that would be accessed by an auto lift. The basement space would be 5,160 square feet of commercial or office space, as well as a storage area.

The second level would have three commercial spaces, one free-market studio and two one-bedroom employee housing units. The third level contains two free-market residential units and deck space.

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