Next use for former Aspen City Hall close to being decided

Second public survey is out and homing in on specific uses for downtown Aspen building

Public survey is out on what should be the next iteration of Aspen’s armory building, which was being used most recently as City Hall.
Aspen Times file photo

City of Aspen officials are drilling down the public’s preferences on how to use the armory building in the future, and the three top-ranked needs so far in the engagement process are casual dining, multi-purpose space and nonprofit services.

A second survey was launched last week in an attempt to zero in on the thoughts and conclusions provided by roughly 300 respondents on the first questionnaire, which was made available in March on the city’s online engagement platform,

“This second engagement window gives us an opportunity to confirm what we heard,” said Jen Phelan, the city’s project manager. “Over the next few weeks, the city is seeking feedback about how to continue to prioritize programming ideas and how the remodel could encompass more mixed-use space to meet multiple needs.”

City officials on this second go-around also want to get a clearer picture on the community’s preferences around the remodel aesthetics and square footage, as well as the municipal government’s options to fund, manage and maintain the armory in the future.

The results of what’s called the “remodel and operational considerations questionnaire,” which will close April 24, will weigh heavily in Aspen City Council’s decision-making.

Council is scheduled to direct staff on programming of the armory during a May 16 work session.

Aspen City Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he prefers that the details of what goes in the building not land at the council table.

“I don’t want the City Council to get involved in every space and how much in the armory,” he said, adding there should be a master lease held by an outside entity to manage the building and its occupants. “I like the idea of open space and don’t want to get into programming.”

Since closing the first questionnaire on March 18, city staff has been compiling and analyzing the results.

Seventy-one percent of the respondents said they preferred that the city take the time, if needed, for a more thorough renovation, and 28 percent want the armory open as quickly as possible.

Respondents answered relatively equally that the armory should be used both day and night, and most of them felt that Conner Park should accommodate active and passive uses.

Sixty percent of the respondents agreed that the emphasis of any unprogrammed space within the building should focus on local residents, compared to visitors or a mix of both.

The Aspen Chamber and Resort Association is planned to be housed in a portion of the building, so the questionnaire probed what audience the remainder of the space should serve.

Nearly 61 percent said it should have a local resident focus, followed by 37.8 percent suggesting it serve a mix of local and visitor community members.

Results from the first questionnaire also revealed that people want the programming to focus on unmet needs within the community; the uses within the building should provide meaningful, affordable participation in programs; and the remodel will respect the historical context and contribute to Aspen’s small-town character.

The current survey follows up on several consistent concepts that emerged in the first questionnaire, including child care, affordable housing, a community center and social services.

Without knowing the extent of the building’s remodel, city officials last year budgeted $7.5 million for 2022 and 2023 for renovations and preservation efforts.

Hauenstein said he likes the idea of movable walls to create flexible space in the building but he expressed concern about the costs of putting in a commercial kitchen and if casual dining is a viable option.

The community is encouraged to submit ideas, share stories, ask questions, express interest in one of the focus groups scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, and attend the project’s Wednesday open house, which will be held 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at City Hall on Rio Grande Place.

The armory was most recently used as City Hall before the new city office building opened in December. The armory is currently being used by Pitkin County for court services because the courthouse is being renovated.