Is old Aspen youth center for sale? |

Is old Aspen youth center for sale?

ASPEN ” Aspen voters will decide on May 5 whether to give the City Council authorization to sell the former youth center building to make way for a new Aspen Art Museum facility.

The Aspen City Council on Monday voted unanimously to send the question to voters, after museum representatives collected signatures of 668 registered city voters over the past three weeks on a petition asking for their support.

If approved by the voters, the council is not required to sell the city-owned property, which is located next to the Pitkin County Library above Rio Grande Place, in a public space known as Galena Street Plaza.

Rather, an approval would allow the council to negotiate a sale price. Both the city and the art museum have ordered appraisals of the property. City law dictates that the sale of any publicly owned property must be approved by voters.

Museum officials last summer hired architect Shigeru Ban to design a new facility, which could be as large as 30,000 square feet. The conceptual design of a new facility will be ready for public review before Election Day, according to museum officials.

But before any detailed plans can be presented, museum officials want to know whether the building could be built on that site.

The Aspen Art Museum (AAM) has $28.5 million in pledges to finance the project with private donations. Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, AAM director and chief curator, told the council that the museum is not asking for any city or taxpayer dollars to fund the project. She estimates that the new museum would cost $20 million to build in addition to the land costs.

The current location of the AAM is set along the Roaring Fork River at the north end of Mill Street, and is 7,000 square feet. Zuckerman Jacobson said the facility has outgrown the needs of the community.

For 30 years, the AAM has leased the facility from the city, which bought it in 1979 for $340,000 when it was the Holy Cross Power Plant.

Public comment on Monday night leaned more against the ballot question proposal than for it, but it was close. Some, including Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan, said Aspen needs a high-quality art museum to further the town’s commitment to culture.

Those against the measure said the ballot measure is premature and gives the council too much authority to negotiate a sale price. They argued there are too many unknowns, including whether the AAM can really raise that much capital and whether it can continue to finance its operational costs years down the road.

Aspen resident Mark Rothman said to let the AAM find its own piece of property, and not allow critical land to be taken away from the public.

“To give up a piece like this is a shame,” he said.

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