Aspen ski museum concept near new Lift One goes for second vote
Aspen City Council’s commitment to put millions of dollars toward the redevelopment at the base of Aspen Mountain reaffirms voters’ desire for a ski museum to be built there.
Aspen residents in 1991 voted 1,303 to 226 in support of the city entering into a long-term lease with the Aspen Historical Society to construct, own and operate a ski museum on Willoughby Park.
That lease — which is for up to 75 years — has been renewed every five years, City Attorney Jim True said. The historical society pays $1 to the city each year to lease the land.
“They theoretically could build a building,” he said. “They do have that right.”
That is the hope as part of the Lift One Corridor project, which includes over 300,000 square feet of commercial development with two lodging properties, a new telemix chairlift and a bar and restaurant in the old Skier’s Steakhouse building.
A key piece of the proposal is a relocated and refurbished Skiers Chalet Lodge that would face Dean Street and be next to the loading area of the new Lift One chairlift.
The building is proposed to be 11,000 square feet, more than half of which would be dedicated to the historical society.
The remaining square feet would be dedicated to skier and ticketing services and ski patrol.
Michael Brown — one of the developers proposing the Lift One Lodge, a 104-key timeshare property — owns the Skiers Chalet Lodge and wants the city to pay for its build-out as part of a public-private partnership.
It’s estimated to cost $3.6 million to create a “white box” for tenant build-out.
Public dollars also are anticipated to be put toward improvements to Dean Street.
Kelly Murphy, president and CEO of the historical society, said the exhibit area would be about 3,000 square feet of subterranean space.
It would pay homage to Aspen’s rich ski history, which began at the western side of Aspen Mountain. The world’s longest ski lift — Lift One — was dedicated in 1947 and international ski racing soon followed.
Artifacts such as the old boat tow that was used before Lift One to take skiers up the mountain, as well as old skis and chairs from the lift and other transportation vehicles used in the early days, would be on display in the museum.
Murphy also noted that the historical society has all of the wood from Aspen Highlands’ old A-frame lodge that was at the base. Names that were carved into the lodge’s beams are in still intact, Murphy said.
All of the artifacts are currently stored in a facility in Glenwood Springs.
“Almost our whole collection is down there,” Murphy said, adding the new basement space on Willoughby Park would be the ideal place for it to be showcased. “Artifacts like to be in a cooler, moderate temperature so having 3,000 square feet of actual net exhibit space gives us the ability to have a larger place to put it.”
The historical society would occupy an additional 2,000 square feet on the floor that would be entered at “snow level” — or coming down from the slope. It’s envisioned that there would be a gift shop, a cafe and other ancillary operations for the historical society.
“It would be a place where people can hang out,” Murphy said. “We’ve got some fun ideas.”
Another 2,000 square feet on the third floor would be used for historical society events and programming, like the showing of vintage Aspen movies.
A lot needs to happen for that conceptual plan to take shape.
City Council has to approve an ordinance before mid-January to take the entire corridor project to Aspen voters March 5.
If approved, the Lift One Lodge developers would have to relocate and refurbish the Skiers Chalet.
Simultaneously, the historical society would have to begin a capital campaign and create an endowment so it can build out the space and operate the museum, which is a multimillion-dollar endeavor.
When the idea of a museum was floated to voters in 1991, the owner of the property adjacent to Willoughby Park was Chaffin and Light Real Estate LLC.
Developers had the idea that the historical society would partner with Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, which would build a clubhouse and operate from the base of Aspen Mountain.
But that never gained traction and AVSC ultimately built its clubhouse at Highlands.
And with Chaffin and Light’s development plans not going forward, the museum idea was put on the back burner.
Murphy said she is excited about the prospect of it becoming a reality.
“We feel there is broad support for a museum,” she said.
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