Masonry work on Aspen’s historic building to extend into July |

Masonry work on Aspen’s historic building to extend into July

Due to unforeseen issues, the exterior masonry work on the historic Wheeler Opera House has been extended until July.

The project, which has the entire east side of the downtown building encapsulated with scaffolding, was set to finish in the spring.

The original project schedule was to complete as much work as possible on the east side of the building before Christmas. It was planned to demobilize before the holiday season with a re-mobilization in the spring to complete the remaining work, according to Rob Schober, the city’s project manager.

However, the project scope and the schedule now extend into the summer because the work on the stone is much more extensive than once thought.

Aspen City Council earlier this year agreed to allow an accelerated schedule of the project, which was planned to be phased in 2021 and 2022, since COVID-19 shuttered the Wheeler Opera House operations in March.

There are no plans to open due to current public health orders and a spike in COVID cases in Pitkin County.

“Because of the current public health order, we don’t foresee any public events in the Wheeler until January at the earliest so it’s our preference to continue working on the exterior and keep the scaffolding up,” said Scott Miller, the city’s public works director.

Wheeler interim executive director Nancy Lesley had planned to open in December with local, community-oriented events that would have been conducted live in front of a capacity of 53 people, as well as streamed online.

Even if the venue does open in some limited capacity, the project is not expected to affect operations, according to Schober.

The project has affected the two businesses in the city-owned building, Valley Fine Arts and Aspen Public House, the latter of which agreed to close from September through mid-December.

Valley Fine Art has remained open by appointment this fall.

Public House owner Bill Johnson said last week that he plans to open in December with the goal to have outdoor seating by June.

“I’m willing to work with Rob and the city to get the project done,” he said, adding he’s taken the offseason while closed to do some interior projects.

Schober said cost and impacts to the Wheeler and its businesses will be much less by staying the course, rather than multiple project mobilizations and demobilizations in the future.

“We might as well do this now,” Schober said last week. “We’ve made good use of the down time.”

Aspen City Council in July agreed to waive the rent for both Aspen Public House and Valley Fine Art from July through December, equaling a loss of almost $88,000 that would normally fund local nonprofits through the annual Wheeler grants program.

Council members at the time declined Johnson’s request for a 50% rent reduction for the first six months of 2021, saying there are too many unknowns and they will revisit it at the end of the year.

Aspen Public House’s monthly rent is approximately $10,635.

Valley Fine Art’s monthly rent is almost $4,000.

Schober said based on previous action, staff would expect to be back in front of council with a request to extend the rent relief through the remainder of the project.

“I think it’s fair to Bill and Mia (Valley) for what we are doing,” Schober said.

Council did not discuss the rent issue on Tuesday during its regular meeting when the project delay was brought up.

Johnson said last week he would appreciate some rent relief with the ongoing project.

“Any help with rent relief given the current situation would be nice,” he said.

Access will be maintained, like what is currently in place along the east side of the building for all businesses and the public right of way.

Both Valley Fine Arts and Aspen Public House agree that the best path forward for all parties is to complete the project now, according to Schober.

The cost of additional work is built into the project’s contingency budget. The entire project is estimated to cost just over $2 million.

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