City of Aspen is full steam ahead on new office building after voters give green light
City of Aspen officials are making moves that will resurrect plans for a new building at Rio Grande Place, now that voters have reaffirmed elected officials’ decision that is the best location for government offices.
In response to Tuesday’s election results that had the majority of voters (56.8 percent) choosing “Option B” — a roughly 40,000-square-foot development at 427 and 455 Rio Grande Place — the team in the city’s capital asset department is picking up where it left off earlier this year when the project was put on hold because of ongoing litigation.
“We are at the same place as we were when we stopped,” Jack Wheeler, the city’s capital asset director, said Wednesday.
Senior staff members met Wednesday to strategize the city’s next moves in making the project a reality.
Assistant City Manager Sara Ott said the first priority is securing a settlement agreement with two Aspen residents and a Snowmass Canyon resident who sued after they unsuccessfully sought to put the project to a referendum vote last year.
And on Nov. 26, council is expected to approve terminating the city’s real estate contract with developer Mark Hunt to buy the spaces across from the current City Hall for $32.5 million, which was part of Option A on the ballot.
Ott said there will be a series of meetings with council to discuss the project, its costs and provide guidance on specific aspects of the redevelopment plan.
The city already has selected Shaw Construction to construct the building. A contract for utility and demolition work with an estimated value of $3.3 million is expected to be approved soon. Work will begin in the next couple of months.
Wheeler said it will take two years to complete the estimated $26.1 million building.
The development, which is located in the former Aspen Chamber Resort Association visitor center attached to the parking garage, includes the old youth center building where Taster’s Pizza is.
During the campaign leading up to Tuesday’s election, opponents of Option B used the popular restaurant as collateral to get people to vote for the alternative, Option A, which included 27,000 square feet of turnkey office space in two downtown commercial buildings owned by Hunt.
Signs around town said “Save Taster’s, vote for Option A.”
Taster’s is on a month-to-month lease and will have to close during construction. But that doesn’t mean it won’t return, Wheeler said.
“We are going to let Taster’s know that construction is imminent,” he said. “We want Taster’s to stay there as long as possible.”
Wheeler said council could just renew the lease and have Taster’s return to the space, or it could go out for a request for proposals to attract other restaurateurs.
Wheeler said he will go to council in the coming weeks and months to talk about phases of the project and what city departments will go in the new building, a portion of which will rise above the garage onto Galena Plaza.
Council also will have to decide in the future how to fund the city’s entire development plan for municipal offices, which in total is estimated to cost $46.1 million. That includes the new building, as well as remodeling the Armory (City Hall) for $15.8 million. Combined, the redevelopment plan will produce 60,000 square feet for municipal office and government space.
That plan had been vetted through the public process for more than a year before council approved it. But the lawsuit put it on hold.
The city and the plaintiffs agreed on a settlement, the conditions of which put the choice in front of voters anyway.
“We feel validated by the community,” Wheeler said, adding that the plans for the Rio Grande/Galena Plaza project are thoughtful and intentional.
As for Hunt, he said he plans to continue securing leases for a redeveloped commercial building at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. and begin construction next year.
The other space the city currently has under contract but is expected to terminate is at 204 S. Galena St. Hunt said it will remain a restaurant. Aspen Kitchen has moved out and Hunt has plans to put a new restaurant there. It should be open by December, he said.
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