Aspen public shows little interest in mountain-to-town connection plan
As city officials redesign a key downtown Aspen park area at the request of a group of residents who think a new government building blocks the river from the mountain, the public has shown little interest thus far in the process.
Fewer than two dozen people attended three community outreach meetings last week on what the future of Galena Plaza should be, and many of the attendees were government representatives.
Those meetings are just the beginning of a nearly $10,000 public outreach effort that Aspen City Council approved this past spring to better connect Rio Grande Place and the downtown core.
Council agreed last month to a $201,000 change order to the roughly $50 million City Hall project so that the plaza is designed with more thought than what was done previously.
Kathleen Wanatowicz, whose public relations firm, PR Studio, is contracted with the city to conduct the outreach, said her team will be in the plaza when the weather allows.
“Throughout the month of November we will have several pop-up (events) and grab people (in the plaza),” she said. “You might see us out there grilling hot dogs.”
The open space is mostly used now as a pass-through for those walking to and from town from the north end neighborhoods like Hunter Creek and the popular Rio Grande Park.
Government buildings, including the library, the jail, the courthouse, county administrative offices and the police department, surround the plaza.
How it functions and what goes on the open space is partly based on council’s decision this fall to have the new office building be City Hall where public meetings occur and legislative support staff are based, said Mike Tunte, landscape architect and construction manager for the city’s park’s department.
“I can’t overstate that this is going to be the government seat of the city,” he said, adding that will change the dynamic of the plaza.
His team, along with landscape architecture firm Design Workshop, will take public feedback and build conceptual designs around it. The plans will be unveiled Dec. 4 at an open house.
“Having three concepts is a powerful way to have the public weigh in, and I know it’s hard to get people excited but it’s incredibly important that people share their thoughts,” Tunte said. “I’m hoping that this process gets us to a design that’s inspirational.”
He, along with Wanatowicz and Tracy Trulove, the city’s communications director, recognized that getting people to care during the planning process is a challenge.
“It’s disappointing to put a plan in place and use all the tools and they don’t show up,” Trulove said, adding that the city asks a lot of its residents to weigh in on a number of initiatives at the same time. “It’s either people think it’s too many things coming at them or they don’t care.”
Trulove, who started in the newly created position this past summer, said she is working internally to see what kind of public outreach is most effective in a city where people tend to show up at the last minute, right before something is about to be approved after months or years of public process.
Wanatowicz said she placed four newspaper ads in advance of last week’s community outreach meetings, as well as a Facebook Live with Trulove and reached out to people through the city’s website, www.aspencommunityvoice.com, where about two dozen people have weighed in on Galena Plaza.
She added that while there was not a lot of people at the meetings, there were some good suggestions.
“While we didn’t have a lot of quantity, we did have a lot of quality,” she said. “In December, when we have something to react to, we’ll have more participation.”
That’s when people are expected to choose a conceptual plan, which may include an amphitheater, outdoor seating, vending carts and what the stairway from the plaza to Rio Grande Park would look like.
A preferred plan will be selected in January and by the spring, it will be solidified.
Tunte said the current site plan is years old and doesn’t reflect what the space is currently used for, or in the future.
“A lot of the attention was going to the city offices and not a lot of attention was paid to Galena Plaza,” he said, noting that 38% more open space is being added. “Given some of the changes that have occurred, that plan was not great. … Here’s a chance to get it right.”
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This coming spring and summer, Galena Street in downtown Aspen may look a lot different, with bicyclist and pedestrians taking priority.