Dwell on this … | AspenTimes.com

Dwell on this …

Abigail Eagye

Ryan and Anelia Milbrandt of Lakewood look over maps of Aspen at the city's much-maligned information booth Tuesday afternoon. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

A fair number of visitors to Aspen stopped to dwell on the mall over the weekend – exactly as the City Council had hoped.Several years ago, Front Range consultants Ford Frick and Henry Beer made a number of suggestions designed to increase “dwell time” on the mall. The council’s hope was to overcome the sense that the streets of Aspen were deserted, to add “messy vitality” in Aspen’s downtown core.Among Frick and Beer’s suggestions: placing tables and chairs around the mall, informational kiosks to help visitors find their way around and a warming hearth to inspire outdoor dwelling in winter. All of those suggestions are now a reality, and visitors to the mall Tuesday were pleased with the amenities – mostly.The new information booth, or “guest services pavilion,” as the city calls it, has attracted its fair share of detractors for its bomb-shelter-like appearance on one side. But a number of mall dwellers found it attractive, helpful and well located.”When we drove in, we got rerouted because of the construction, and it was the first thing we saw,” said Chris Gross.”It blends in very well with everything,” said Gross’ wife, Erin. “It’s a nice, eclectic mix in this area.”Ryan and Anelia Milbrandt come to Aspen to backpack from time to time. The Longmont couple stopped at the info booth Tuesday to pick up a winter trail map to plan a ski trip, and they were pleased to find the booth so easily, as well as all the information they needed right there.”It’s nice there’s a person you can talk to rather than just a bunch of brochures slammed out,” Anelia said. “I think if I have a question, I’d rather talk to somebody.”Betsy Berk, a.k.a. “Mis-information,” was working the booth Tuesday. She said more than 500 people a day stopped by during the Labor Day Weekend – far more than the previous informational kiosk saw in its old location, where the warming hearth now sits.

“The big questions over there were whether we have tokens or ducks,” she said. “They thought it was part of the Ducky Derby.”The duck questions are on the decline, Berk said, while people flock to the new booth to find out where to eat, where to stay and what to do with their kids – among other important questions.

“The world wants to know where the bathroom is,” she said.Floridian Craig Cohen is visiting friends in Aspen and has made the trip to the mall three or four times in 12 days to relax and read the paper, making good use of the public tables and chairs. He loves the mall, he said, as well as the rest of Aspen.Sitting at a table behind the info booth, however, he called the building “a little bit of an eyesore.”He wasn’t alone.Bonnie and Ira Hollenberg of Palm Beach, Fla., occupied the same table earlier in the day.”What were they trying to do with it?” Bonnie wondered.

And last month, when Frick and Beer returned to Aspen to consult during the city’s building moratorium, Beer was frank about the info booth, saying it looked like a “portable unit for transmitting weapons-grade uranium.”The walk-around with Frick and Beer prompted the council to address the booth’s aesthetics at a recent work session. While council members were pleased with how much information is being disseminated, they seemed to agree the back of the booth could use some work. Meanwhile, at the other end of the mall, Ross Greedy of Buena Vista echoed the council’s sentiments. From a distance, he suggested the booth needs to be attractive on all sides, but otherwise, he liked the mall.Over at the fountain, visitors were not so generous with the special events kiosk.Michael Laskowski, also of Palm Beach, really enjoyed the fountain and the table, but he said he didn’t even see the kiosk.”I didn’t notice it because I was entertained by the fountain,” he said. “Maybe it’s in the wrong location.”

He noted that over the weekend, crowds congregated at the fountain, especially people with children, and completely overlooked the kiosk.That’s no snub to the city, though. He found the other elements “welcoming and inviting.”Installed in April, the warming hearth has yet to be fired up, but temporary firepits the city has placed on the mall in the past proved popular.The total cost to install the info booth, the special events kiosk and the hearth was $113,375. The info booth was put up in early August and is awaiting some finishing touches, such as a sandblasted glass canopy on three sides. And the council has considered ways of beautifying the booth’s back side, such as changing the outer material or painting it with the letter ‘i’ to let people know what it is.For more information, stop by the booth and see for yourself.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com