Renter’s remorse: City of Aspen spending millions of dollars in rent | AspenTimes.com

Renter’s remorse: City of Aspen spending millions of dollars in rent

The city of Aspen spent nearly a half-million dollars in rent and homeowner association dues last year for four departments that have been displaced.

The engineering and building departments, along with the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and the Aspen Police Department, all rent spaces outside of municipally owned buildings.

APCHA, which has been leasing two units in a mixed-use building on East Hyman Avenue since 2014, is the only department that has to pay HOA dues. Last year, those amounted to just under $22,000. But in 2016, APCHA had to pay a special assessment of almost $16,000 to pay for the remodel of the complex's pool and hot tub.

And while housing staff can use the pool because they are tenants, the public can't use it even though it is partially paid for by taxpayer money.

Jeff Pendarvis, the city's facilities and property manager, said it is an not ideal situation.

"It's in a building that is not designed to have city offices," he said.

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APCHA was displaced from its digs in the county annex building on Main Street just before it went under construction.

In 2016, the city took over an office suite in the new Mill Street complex to house the building and engineering departments. Those offices used to be located in the old Aspen Daily News building, but when it changed ownership, the city had to find new digs.

And the police department has been renting office space in Obermeyer Place since 2015 when it moved out of the basement of the courthouse. A new public safety facility is being constructed next to the county annex building where Aspen police will be housed later this year.

There are several other departments that are in satellite offices scattered around town, making operations not very efficient, according to city officials.

The city has retrofitted nearly all of them to accommodate each department's needs. Pendarvis said that has amounted to millions of dollars.

All told, the city has spent well over $1 million in rent since departments began moving out of the armory where City Hall is located because of cramped working conditions.

And that is the basis for the city's plan to build a 37,000-square-foot municipal office building that will face Rio Grande Place and rise up over Galena Plaza near the library.

Jack Wheeler, the city's capital asset director, said a facilities master plan was done in 2013. It assessed what the city needed for office space based on national standards.

"Then we reduced it by 30 percent," he said, adding the current office space layout isn't the best for functionality. "Anytime we are spread out and fragmented it makes it a challenge. Ideally we would not be renting space."

Plans for the municipal building are on hold now that a judge has ruled in favor of two residents who have sued the city, arguing the approval of the building should go to a referendum.

Pendarvis said consolidating departments under one roof would save taxpayer money and create efficiencies for not only staff but the public, as well.

"It's difficult to operate an organization and have continuity when you are constantly moving departments," he said. "It frustrates us because we don't want to spend money unnecessarily. We want to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money."

csackariason@aspentimes.com

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