Museum officials break ground for downtown Aspen project |

Museum officials break ground for downtown Aspen project

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen Art Museum project moved a step closer to reality Tuesday with a ceremonial groundbreaking at the future construction site on the corner of South Spring Street and East Hyman Avenue, formerly the home of the Wienerstube restaurant.

Plans call for a 30,000-square-foot, three-story structure with 12,500 square feet of exhibition space and a façade of wood and glass. A partially enclosed sculpture garden will sit atop the roof of the main building, affording open-air views of Aspen Mountain and the city’s commercial core. The partial roof will cover the deck about 45 feet above the ground.

Construction will cost an estimated $30 million and could possibly begin this fall. However, a spring 2012 start is more likely because designs and building plans aren’t completely finished, museum communications director Jeff Murcko said.

“It could theoretically happen this fall,” he said. “There’s an outside chance.”

The museum has raised more than $46 million toward its $50 million goal, deemed necessary to fund the construction project and also to create a $20 million endowment that will pay for future operations. For the past 32 years, the nonprofit organization has operated out of a converted hydroelectric plant building adjacent to the Roaring Fork River on North Mill Street. That building, which the city owns and leases to the museum, is a historic structure.

Nearly 100 people attended the 10 a.m. groundbreaking, where director and chief curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson recognized the museum’s board of trustees, its campaign committee and guests.

“I’m thrilled to be standing here with so many people who have played a role in making this project a reality,” Jacobson said.

She singled out the board’s past president, Nancy Magoon, as the driving force who urged museum officials to “seize the momentum” to initiate wider fundraising efforts after a large donation to the museum capital campaign five years ago.

“Nancy is my original partner in crime for this project,” Jacobson said. “Her early efforts resulted in nearly $30 million in pledges toward this dream.”

She also praised the board’s vice president and future co-president, John Phelan, as having an “equal impact on this project. His remarkable efforts have brought us to this point where we can today call this spot museum grounds. … Never once have we not thoroughly weighed every decision to be made, under his guidance.”

The museum also will include an education classroom, museum shop, cafe and other amenities. The project’s lead architect is Japanese native Shigeru Ban, known for his innovative approaches to environmentally sound architecture, as well as his devotion to humanitarian efforts in the wake of recent natural and manmade disasters in New Orleans, Haiti, New Zealand and Japan.

The museum’s board had considered a different site before negotiating a deal for the former Wienerstube property. The Aspen City Council, museum and the property owner announced in June 2010 that as part of a lawsuit settlement between the city and the landowner, the museum would seek to move to the heart of downtown Aspen. AAM officials have said that they have outgrown their current facility – more than 35,000 visitors from around the world pass through the doors annually – and they wanted a substantially larger building closer to the city’s center.

Controversy set in, with critics saying that the process circumvented the normal land-use approval process to push through a project that didn’t comply with zoning rules. Feeling that the plans were too grandiose for the site and the surrounding mixed-use neighborhood, opponents wanted the project to endure the normal application process, which includes a full review by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

At an Aspen Business Luncheon last year, Chris Bendon, director of the city’s Community Development Department, said the project complies with zoning rules. He added that he felt there was a legitimate public process.

The council approved the museum’s land-use application after an August 2010 public hearing.

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