City of Aspen to open up design process for new government building |

City of Aspen to open up design process for new government building

A view of the new city office building at Rio Grande Place and Galena Plaza.
Courtesy rendering

The city of Aspen this summer will open up the design of its new municipal building to improve the landscape around it and to make it as green as possible, but any changes won’t violate the original ordinance that approved it two years ago, elected officials decided Tuesday.

The collaborative approach with the public was at the request of a group of citizens who want the building, which will be located between Rio Grande Park and Galena Plaza, to not feel like a wall between areas of town.

They presented some conceptual ideas on Tuesday during Aspen City Council’s work session.

“What we are seeing here is a plaza that is a severely underutilized space,” said local architect Harry Teague, who is working with city staff on design ideas. “It has immense potential.”

Teague and his group want to ensure that the Roaring Fork River and the John Denver Sanctuary in the park connect seamlessly with the plaza and the downtown area in a “river to mountain” connection.

A key to making that happen is to revamp the stairway that extends from the street level of the Rio Grande parking garage to Galena Plaza.

“Right now the stairs are daunting,” Teague said, adding he wants everyone involved in the planning to think of the Spanish Steps in Rome or Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. “They are an event in and of themselves.”

The entrance to the building on the plaza level should play off of the stairway, Teague noted.

Also key to connecting the river to town is reconfiguring what is called the Jail Trail, which leads from Rio Grande Place to Galena Plaza.

Teague suggested that a water feature extend from Main Street down to the park to help connect the two areas, and provide a symbiotic relationship between the river and mountain.

Bill Stirling, a local real estate agent and a former mayor, also wants the city to get as carbon neutral as it can with the new building, which is a 37,500-square-foot structure that was approved by voters this past fall.

Council members were agreeable to working with the citizen group and hosting design charettes this summer.

“I’m thrilled that you are doing this,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins, adding that she had been planning to initiate a peer review of the project to improve the building.

Councilman Bert Myrin, who lost in the March election to keep his seat for another four years, wondered how much of the landscaping is just “lipstick on a pig” but supported the effort going forward.

“This is an opportunity for the next council to create a sense of place,” he said, adding that the nearby redeveloped Obermeyer Place does not do that. “Obermeyer is a disaster.”

Construction is set to begin this fall, with the project team first finalizing construction drawings for the shell and core of the building, which will require council approval, according to Interim City Manager Sara Ott.

“I have … instructed staff to host a series of work sessions over the summer to provide an update on three areas of the city offices project, including the building construction, the design process for connections, including continued public participation, and to present alternatives for how to finalize programming in the interior building spaces,” she wrote in a memo to council.

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