Performing arts center at Willits takes step closer to reality | AspenTimes.com

Performing arts center at Willits takes step closer to reality

This architect's drawing shows the exterior of 'The Permanent,' a performing arts center envisioned at Willits Town Center.

The group proposing a performing arts center at Willits sailed through the first of two reviews before the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night.

The board voted 6-0 to grant sketch plan approval for the plan proposed by The Arts Center at Willits, or TACAW. The group proposed a 19,000-square-foot building on the southwestern section of Willits Town Center, with the possibility of a 10,000-square-foot basement.

It would feature a large theater with seating for around 420 and total capacity of 600 with standing room; a smaller theater with total capacity for 200; a commercial kitchen; a lobby/lounge, offices and storage; and outdoor spaces.

The goal would be to host about 150 events per year, according to Ryan Honey, TACAW's executive director. He said operations at a temporary arts center, named The Temporary, over the past 10 months has reinforced the need for a larger facility capable of handling a broader diversity of events. The temporary has hosted 125 events and attracted roughly 15,000 paying patrons in addition to hundreds more who attended free events. New audiences are constantly being lured as word spread of the venue, he said.

"There are numerous acts that we know we could sell tickets to but we don't have the space," Honey said. "There's so much more we can do."

As it stands, the performing arts center would be called "The Permanent."

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The Basalt town government has owned the site, right off Willits Lane, since Willits Town Center was approved in 2001. The town would grant a long-term lease at a favorable rate. Affordable-housing mitigation would be waived, as it was for the Roaring Fork Conservancy's River Center, which is being completed west of downtown, according to town planner Susan Philp. Parking would be on street in Willits.

The arts center would be constructed with private donations and grants. An existing real estate transfer assessment would produce funds to help with operations.

The council approved the first step of review, called sketch plan, with little discussion.

"The only thing that hits me in the face is the parking thing," Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said. She said she wants to make sure Willits Lane and residential areas aren't impacted.

Councilman Bill Infante said the facility enriches the town.

"Basalt deserves to be proud of what you've done so far," he said.

The council will dig into technical issues in the second and final round of approval.

TACAW's contract with the town required the organization to acquire sketch plan approval by July 1 and a building permit by June 1, 2020.

Michael Lipkin, the original developer of Willits Town Center and a member of TACAW's board of directors, said the group is eager to pursue the vision that was first discussed about 20 years ago.

"This has been incubating for quite awhile," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com