Let’s fight to preserve Aspen’s ambiance
September 21, 2012
Many of us are shocked about the several proposed three-story buildings that are seeking approval in downtown Aspen. Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilmen Steve Skadron and Torre have expressed strong concerns, even outrage about the possibility of these projects being built. Some of these proposed contemporary buildings are in the heart of Aspen’s historic core, whose ambiance and historic buildings we have worked for decades to preserve.
In Europe, travelers are directed to cities’ “old-town centers,” where they see the centuries-old churches, town squares, town halls, hotels and restaurants. Any contemporary buildings are usually well outside the historic city centers. It is to these “old-town centers” that the locals and the tourists gravitate. The historic centers of European towns are a source of local pride and are important to their economy and tourism. Their old buildings are strictly protected, and when necessary, they are restored or rebuilt with care to be true to the originals.
I think that the majority of us have had a similar pride in our historic town, our small-town ambiance, our mining history which goes back to the 19th century, and our history as a ski resort going back 80 years or more. Most of us recognize that this historic ambiance has been one of Aspen’s most important attributes, setting us apart from other ski resorts, and helping to make us the best-known ski resort in the world.
So why are we letting our historic town center be turned into, as Torre said, “an urban center of the Rockies”? One of the most recent assaults on Aspen’s small-town and historic ambiance is the under-construction, bamboo-and-glass, Japanese-modernist art museum. Several of the newly proposed contemporary three-story buildings will take up the length of the same block as the museum.
Another one of the proposed structures is a modern, three-story glass building on the Hyman Avenue mall, which prompted Skadron to “outrage,” causing him to say, “I’m beside myself to think what effect on the historic core a building like this could have.”
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Councilman Torre expressed concern about the loss of “character and feel of Aspen, which has brought us a lot of prosperity.” Are we willing to accept the consequences if Aspen loses the historic character and ambience that has attracted visitors for decades?
And then there is the tall, modernist addition that is proposed for Aspen’s classic brick library. Our handsome and spacious library was built around 20 years ago, designed to complement the more-than-100-year-old county courthouse that is adjacent to it as well as other neighboring historic buildings. If this unnecessary addition to the library is approved by public vote, our tax dollars will pay for a very costly and totally incompatible modern addition of glass and white concrete that will forever mar the library’s classic design.
The future of Aspen is more uncertain than ever. Our town has been so unique and special to year-round tourists and winter skiers, most of whom return year after year. We used to protect our historic buildings as well as restrict density and building sizes. We didn’t want to be like those “other ski resorts.”
Why are we now letting these developers transform our town? To turn Aspen’s downtown into a construction zone for years to come, to urbanize and to contemporize downtown Aspen? This loss of downtown character, ambience and history began a few years ago and it’s gaining momentum. It soon will be too late if we don’t act now.
If Aspen’s historic character and small-town ambience are important to us, to our families, and to our businesses, we all need to work together to save what’s left. A couple of years ago, we were given the opportunity to vote against the tall, glass art museum that was proposed to be built between our historic county courthouse and the library. We didn’t like it, and we decisively voted it down.
We never got the chance to vote against its next proposal, the massive, Japanese-modernist art museum on Hyman Avenue, which would change the skyline and character of Aspen forever. But we will have the chance in November’s election to decide whether we want considerable tax dollars being spent on a soaring, contemporary library addition.
What kind of changes to Aspen are we willing to accept and to pay for?