City of Aspen preparing for upheaval of pedestrian malls | AspenTimes.com

City of Aspen preparing for upheaval of pedestrian malls

Plans are getting finalized for the overhaul of Aspen's downtown pedestrian malls.

Aspen City Council members on Tuesday signed off on a conceptual design that includes everything from moving the bathrooms at Wagner Park to removing the fire pit on Galena Street, to adding more bike racks to a possible reconfiguring of outdoor dining spaces, among other changes.

The latest design is based on three years of planning and public feedback, said Jeff Woods, manager for the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"We've vetted this with our community," he told council.

The city is preparing to rip up 130,000 square feet on Hyman, Mill, Cooper and Galena streets that comprise Aspen's pedestrian malls. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020 and is prompted by necessity — mostly because of problems lurking underneath.

Not only is the brick surface more than 40 years old, much of the malls' underground infrastructure predates that by a couple of decades.

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Utility lines for water, gas, telephone, electric and stormwater 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.

And if all of those elements are old, one can imagine the trees that line the malls are, too. City officials say they are reaching their maturity and need to be replaced. Some crabapple trees, which attract bears, would be substituted with non-bearing fruit trees.

Because the malls have to be torn up, it provides an opportunity to change what has been identified as deficient or could be improved upon.

Councilman Adam Frisch asked city staff and representatives from Design Workshop — the firm hired by the local government to help design the project — if Tuesday's presentation was a community wish list and if the remodel was even necessary, and also noted that "now we figure out how to pay for it."

Jack Wheeler, the city's capital asset director, said he and the team are being as fiscally responsible as they can, but the infrastructure and ADA issues can't be ignored much longer.

"We can either do it thoughtfully or respond in crisis," he said.

Councilman Bert Myrin said when it comes to how to phase the project (shutting the malls down for an entire summer is an option to realize savings), everyone who has a business there should vote on the matter.

Frisch responded by predicting the outcome.

"When the retailers come back 50/50, we better find a big coin to flip," he joked.

Wagner Park also could be closed, since it's going to be impacted regardless and provides a good location for staging, Wheeler said, adding that is a decision for council in the future.

Design Workshop principal Mike Albert and associate Darla Callaway presented the updated design, which keeps most of the historic Hyman and Cooper avenue malls intact, but with added space for emergency vehicles and leveling out the surface.

The biggest changes are the connections to Wagner Park and Durant Street from the Mill Street Mall. The bathrooms in front of the park would move to the south and a new playground relocated to the north end. That way, it opens the park to the pedestrian experience and provides views of Shadow Mountain.

"Wagner Park is our central park and it's a great green edge," Albert said. "This is really the beachfront people would sit and look at."

A misting fountain may get added where the bathrooms are now located. It could be turned off when not in use, and the space repurposed.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he has mixed feelings about the fountain.

"It could be viewed as a barrier to Wagner Park," he said.

Council members also favored a new sidewalk on the park's western side for pedestrians going toward the St. Regis. The electeds also want snowmelt in sections of the pedestrian malls.

An extension of the brick walkway next to Rubey Park and across Durant will help with connectivity from the mall. And at Galena and Hyman, where the Ki Davis Fountain is, the mall would extend into the street 5 feet to create more space for pedestrians.

Myrin said he was concerned that it wouldn't leave enough room for cars and bicyclists. The design team said it would look more like the intersection at Cooper and Galena, near Paradise Bakery.

The city is in the second phase of a five-phase plan. City staff will now do a construction feasibility analysis. Wheeler said that should be ready in the next few months, along with estimates on how much the project will cost.

csackariason@aspentimes.com