Group mobilizing to change design of Aspen’s new city office building
A group has emerged that wants the city of Aspen to open up a public process to redesign the municipal office building that is going up between Rio Grande Place and Galena Plaza.
“The whole thing feels like a wall,” said Bill Stirling, a former Aspen mayor, who along with local architect Harry Teague and concerned citizen Peter Grenney, plans to address Aspen City Council tonight. “We think it is lacking in some ways and we want to see if they like our ideas.”
They said they will request the city pause the project for a couple of weeks and ask for a public design process so the building better connects the Rio Grande Park area and the downtown core.
“We are not criticizing the design but want to improve it through a public process,” Teague said last week. “We want to take the hard work that is gone into it and work off it. … The current design physically creates a confrontational barrier and we want a building that is a catalyst.”
Stirling said the building should serve as a connector and the interface from the urban core to a popular public area, which includes the park, the John Denver Sanctuary, Theatre Aspen and the Roaring Fork River.
He added that the new City Hall should be an iconic building.
“It’s the most important building in that area for the next 100 years,” he said.
Those behind the redesign effort feel that there hasn’t been an emphasis on architectural design in the approval of the building, or the lead-up to the recent election approving the site location.
Jeff Pendarvis, the city’s capital asset director, noted that there were several meetings prior to the land-use approval in spring of 2017 with the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council. Less than a half dozen people commented, according to city records.
In 2015, council requested additional architectural views and 3D models. A public open house to present schematic designs of the new City Hall was scheduled for February 2016, according to a memo from then asset manager Jack Wheeler to council.
Council at one point had city project managers change the design to “make sure the building was humble,” Pendarvis said.
In February, council approved the construction drawings and didn’t ask staff to change course.
Pendarvis said not much could change with the building, based on the land-use ordinance approved by council.
“The elements we can change are very limited,” he said. “If the size, mass and scale or the architectural palette of the building change, it may trigger a new land-use review.
“If we make any substantial changes to this project, additional costs will be significant.”
The 37,500-square-foot building has an estimated price tag of $30.5 million. The existing Rio Grande building next to the new offices will require $1.2 million for renovation, and another $13.9 million to renovate the current City Hall is part of the plan that voters approved this past November. The total package is estimated to be $45.7 million.
Pendarvis noted that the city has had 100 interactions with the public on the project in the past five years.
Grenney said he brought his concerns to the attention of elected officials last summer and fall. He was met with responses that indicated a public process would continue to happen before final design is decided, he said.
“Will the new city offices architecture stand the test of time and will the community understand and appreciate its significance?” he wrote to council. “This building is your legacy and I want it to be something that the community can be proud of for generations to come. I welcome an explanation of how the new city offices architecture is in harmony with other civic buildings and has substance that will make it historically significant in the future.”
Grenney said with the forced public vote last fall and the city’s review leading up to the land-use ordinance, the process hasn’t been linear and not focused on details like architectural design.
“There are a few renderings and no model,” he said. “There has never been information about design.”
He and others said this is not about not accepting the outcome of the November vote and the building’s location.
“We have the opportunity to make something great,” Grenney said. “What’s the narrative of the building? The architecture was never part of the focus.”
Charles Cunniffe, the architect on the project, didn’t return a call seeking comment.
But city officials have said that specific criteria were set in the municipal government’s request for proposals and Cunniffe met those parameters.
Pendarvis said he and other staff members in charge of the project would need direction from council to go astray from the current plan.
Stirling said he hopes council will listen to their concerns and take a brief pause on the project to consider architecture possibilities.
“Let’s make City Hall a great building with great architecture,” he said.