Aspen City Council: green is better and less is more at Galena Plaza

The current entrance to Galena Plaza from Main Street is not as welcoming as city officials and community members would like.
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

Less is more when it comes to a redesigned Galena Plaza that’s envisioned to connect Rio Grande Park and downtown, Aspen’s elected officials concluded Monday.

Aspen City Council was given three different concepts created by landscape architecture firm Design Workshop and the city parks department.

The concepts were born out of feedback from about 300 people over the course of several outreach events that the city has held since this past summer.

The concepts include various seating areas throughout the plaza, defined and wider pedestrian paths, an open staircase to Rio Grande Park, a transit shelter, flexible event space on the lawn, curved sitting walls, a viewing platform, a children’s play area and a food and beverage kiosk, to name several amenities.

The design team has renamed the area “Aspen Commons” to denote that it is not only a link to the park and river below it but also as a destination gathering place.

The plaza has served mainly as a thoroughfare for people walking from Rio Grande Park into town, as well as a civic space because it’s sandwiched between the courthouse, jail and library.

And now that the city is constructing a 37,500-square-foot office building below the plaza and as an extension of it, a group of citizens have pushed for the area to be a communal area that connects two key parts of town.

“What is pretty clear is Galena Plaza is a left over to a dead-end street,” said Mike Tunte, the city’s landscape architect and construction manager in the parks and open space department. “(Aspen Commons) captures more of what this park and open space is about.”

City staff have budgeted $1.25 million for the next two years for whatever programming and improvements are made.

The final price tag is dependent on how much council members want incorporated into the plaza.

Based on their comments during Monday’s work session, it won’t be all bells and whistles.

“I don’t think we need to dress this up a ton,” Mayor Torre said. “I want to stick to the basics.”

However, he said he’d like a portion of the space to be covered so if an event is occurring on the plaza it’s not disrupted by weather.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow was the sole elected official who supported a water feature in the park, saying it would attract people to gather.

Others voiced concern about having water on top of the parking garage, since the plaza serves as its roof.

Mesirow and others support having food carts on the plaza.

But the priority for the area is green space and connectivity, Mesirow noted.

“The connection from river to mountain is critical,” he said, adding he’d like to see an urban garden with activation areas like a chess board and public art.

Council members Rachel Richards and Ward Hauenstein said the more green space the better, and they support a minimalist approach.

None of the council members supported the option of having a transit shelter and a two-way road that is now the alley in between the library and commercial and residential buildings.

That was a huge sigh of relief for the residents who live in the Galena Lofts located on the south side of the alley.

Several of them spoke Monday, urging council to not encourage more traffic in what should be a pedestrian-focused area.

The main goal is to make the area friendlier to enter. Currently there is a “do not enter” sign on the Main Street entrance to denote that it’s a one-way street where police vehicles are parked.

“That entrance from Main Street to the park is key,” said Bill Stirling, a former Aspen mayor and one of the individuals who asked that council to step back and reconsider the design of the plaza. “It needs to feel like a magnet” for where people want to go.

The design team will take council’s comments and bring back a refined plan in January.