Aspen’s pedestrian mall gets recognition for being a ‘great public space’ | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s pedestrian mall gets recognition for being a ‘great public space’

As city officials contemplate how to update and redesign the pedestrian malls in Aspen, the three-block thoroughfare has been named one of the country's "great public spaces" by the American Planning Association.

It was selected because of its emphasis on pedestrians and as a place to gather, according to an announcement made last week.

Designees are selected annually and represent the gold standard for a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement and a vision for the future.

"Public spaces serve a number of functions within a community, from gathering places to recreational venues, and to satisfy these varied community needs requires thoughtful collaboration and planning," said Cynthia Bowen, president of the planning association. "Aspen's pedestrian mall is a national example of how public spaces effectively create a sense of place that creates access and opportunity for all."

That ideal is on the forefront of city planners' minds as they continue their work, which will lead to an overhaul of the Cooper, Hyman, Mill and Galena pedestrian malls.

Aspen City Council this past spring signed off on a conceptual design that includes moving the bathrooms at Wagner Park, reconfiguring outdoor dining spaces and removing the fire pit on Galena Street.

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Mayor Steve Skadron said he understands the complexity and importance of protecting downtown Aspen's greatest asset.

"Our malls are vibrant, inviting and beautiful; they calm our busy downtown and they create a gathering place for both locals and visitors," he said. "Aspen wouldn't be Aspen without our pedestrian malls."

The overhaul won't begin until at least 2020 and is necessitated by the aging infrastructure underneath the bricks, which were laid more than 40 years ago.

Utility lines for water, gas, telephone, electric and storm water need to be replaced or upgraded. Simultaneously, city officials say the surface needs to be redone so it meets Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. So the historic bricks, which are in limited supply, will likely be replaced with replicas that can provide an even surface.

Jack Wheeler, the city's capital asset director, said he plans to go in front of council in 2019 to discuss next steps and the challenges of the project.

How it's done and how long it will take will be the subject of community debate. City staff has proposed doing the work in phases, or the mall can be shut down for an entire summer.

"It's a big conversation with the community," Wheeler said.

He is currently working on a master plan, along with a construction feasibility analysis and budget.

The malls were constructed in the late 1970s after great community debate, and a few stops and starts. The initial idea for the pedestrian mall started in the early 1960s, with a couple of experimental street closures.

When the majority of the community finally decided to close the streets to cars, a $1.2 million budget was set for the mall's construction.

A total of 315,000 bricks were acquired to pave the three blocks that would form the mall. All of them came from St. Louis, which was in the process of tearing up and replacing streets that had been paved in the early 20th century.

Purchased for $0.40 each, the bricks cost the city of Aspen a total of $126,000.

They were shipped to Aspen by train and stored in the Rio Grande yard, according to the Colorado Cultural Resource Survey on file with the city.

Those bricks will likely be replaced with replicas that can provide an even surface.

csackariason@aspentimes.com