Merchants brainstorm on improving the downtown |

Merchants brainstorm on improving the downtown

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

An outdoor music venue, fire pit and relaxed regulations could all help revitalize the downtown, a group of local merchants concluded Wednesday.

The physical aspects of the resort’s commercial core, and how they can be improved, were the focus in the second of three city-sponsored meetings with a team of consultants hired to assess Aspen’s retail environment and recommend improvements.

About 25 members of the local business community attended yesterday’s session, which began with a presentation by consultant Henry Beer. His Boulder-based design firm, CommArts, has been involved in the makeover of resorts like Beaver Creek and Mountain Village in Telluride, as well as the design of the Park Meadows mall south of Denver.

He offered some pointed remarks about downtown Aspen, which has room for improvement, according to Beer.

“It’s really underutilized,” he said. “There are some remarkable opportunities to create places where people can just be.

“What people are looking for is the opportunity to sit in a safe, secure environment and look at other people.”

The fountain on the mall at Mill Street and Hyman Avenue is an example of a “magical” space where people congregate, Beer noted.

The retail scene is constantly changing, he added, calling on Aspen to be more flexible with its public spaces in the core to help facilitate that change.

Juxtaposing the best of what is old and new will help create the kind of “timeless” public spaces that draw in people, he said, offering the modern Wagner Park restrooms near the historic buildings of the Cooper Avenue mall as an example.

“There is not enough juxtaposition in your core area to make it look vital and alive and real,” Beer said.

He downplayed the need for preserving views and suggested greater density could improve the core. The city’s open space requirement in the core – leaving 25 percent of a commercial lot undeveloped – left Beer incredulous.

“Open space in the middle of Aspen? I know this is sacrosanct – you don’t need open space in the middle of Aspen. You need density,” he said.

He urged the city to loosen up its sign code and its restrictions on letting merchants use the space outside their front doors – something Aspen has already been doing lately.

“You can allow stuff to happen in the public realm, and you won’t die from it,” he said.

Breaking up into small groups, merchants took much of Beer’s message to heart.

Among the most frequently mentioned ideas to come out of the small-group discussions was the need to relax the city’s regulations on signs and lighting.

Additional outdoor gathering spots, including a fire pit and an outdoor performance venue/pavilion, also emerged as a priority. More parking was an oft-repeated need as well.

On the topic of what type of new store Aspen could use, a health food store/deli was mentioned most frequently.

Merchants were evenly split on whether they should be organized as a formal organization.

Other suggestions ran the gamut, from instituting an open container law in downtown Aspen, allowing alcoholic beverages to be consumed on the public rights of way, to installing a synthetic surface at Wagner Park to facilitate a broader range of events there.

The final session is scheduled for Nov. 12 from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Mountain Chalet’s fifth-floor conference room. Attendees should RSVP by Nov. 5 to Denise Driscoll in the Community Development Department at 920-5041.

Retail mix and the landlord’s perspective are to be the focus of the final session, but lead consultant Ford Frick said the meeting could morph into something broader so the team can get more input on ideas that have emerged so far.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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