Four prospects chosen for old art-museum spot | AspenTimes.com

Four prospects chosen for old art-museum spot

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

A committee made up of residents and city employees has chosen four potential concepts for the riverside space recently vacated by the Aspen Art Museum, which the Aspen City Council will consider Tuesday during a work session.

Based on scores awarded to 15 concepts, the top four include the Aspen Science Center (542 points), the Red Brick's Powerhouse Performance and Event Center (538 points), GrassRoots TV's Aspen Media Powerhouse (513 points) and the John Denver Museum and Cultural Center (484 points).

In its recommendation, the committee states that none of the four finalists offers broad community appeal and that applicants should consider partnerships. The advisory board — which includes residents Robin Hamill, Kathryn Koch and Catherine Lutz and city employees Chris Bendon, Barry Crook and Jeff Woods — also listed a food-and-beverage component as essential to the facility and voiced concerns about admission fees. The council has the option to add or subtract from the list.

The 7,200-square-foot space, located at 590 N. Mill St., needs about $1 million in repairs. Past recommendations from city staff also call for the addition of a commercial kitchen, estimated to cost between $300,000 and $600,000.

In its application, the Aspen Science Center envisions "a world-class informal learning center" for science, technology, engineering and math, with programs for pre-school children to adults. With assets totaling around $80,000, the panel found the science center to be an established organization with management and fundraising capabilities, though "not scaled to the level needed to support" its proposal, according to a memorandum to the council.

The Red Brick is proposing an event center that will be used by various groups for lectures, performances, readings and films. Managed structurally like the Red Brick, it will require full-time and part-time tenants for income. The Red Brick lists about $366,000 in total assets.

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The memo contends that the Red Brick has established a proven business model. Its potential as more of a community center is intriguing, and a midsize venue with 100 to 150 seats is needed, the memo states.

The memo questions whether the proposal's scope is too narrow and whether it competes with existing facilities such as the Wheeler Opera House and the Aspen Independent School District. It also lacks a food-and-beverage component and may require too much parking.

The Aspen Media Powerhouse calls for a "technologically advanced, community-operated nonprofit media center, … combining presentation and performance spaces with video recording, post production and digital distribution ability." The proposal states that some of the services would be available to the public at no charge or for a fee, based on the request.

The memo calls the concept "forward-thinking" but also questions how different the proposal is from current GrassRoots TV operation and whether a "media laboratory for novices" can successfully be done. With about $52,000 in total assets, the panel suggests that the proposal will require significant financial support from the city.

The John Denver Museum — led by Denver's estate, daughter Jesse Belle Denver and second wife Cassandra Delaney Denver — calls for a "multi-use and community-focused" venue. Along with housing and displaying Denver's guitars, outfits and awards, it would be open to live music and educational purposes, the application states.

The city memo lists the riverside site's proximity to the John Denver Sanctuary as a strength as well as its appeal as a "hang-out" spot featuring a cafe. In its income statement, the applicant states "we have long and deep connections with top-tier financial institutions, investment firms and high-net-worth individuals." The memo also lists financial security as a strength.

The memo questions whether the venue appeals to a younger demographic that may not know John Denver's music and whether it justifies year-round usage. There is also concern about whether the city should be memorializing an individual with a city-owned building.

On the potential for multiple proposals cohabitating, Crook said the panel is unsure whether any of the ideas can serve as 12-month operations.

On a separate item Tuesday, the Pitkin County Library has requested permission to use the vacant building on Mill Street for a minimum of five months while the library is renovated beginning in February.

herk@aspentimes.com

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