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Powder piles please city

Janet Urquhart

Piles of snow on the edge of Wagner Park appear destined to become Aspen’s first “dwell time” feature.The City Council lauded the idea Tuesday during its first review of various proposed improvements to the downtown core to make it a more inviting place to hang out, or dwell. A team of designers unveiled sketches of its ideas last night.”It’s a natural,” Councilman Tim Semrau said of the snow banks. “All we need is a snow pile and the kids start playing on it immediately.”Plenty of clean snow slides off the roof of the Aspen Recreation Center; it can be trucked over as the city hauls it away anyway, said Jeff Woods, parks director.Other ideas, all of which come with price tags, elicited varying degrees of support from the council.Members voiced general support for installing one or more fire pits/hearths on the malls, but said they’d like to experiment with locations using the portable ones that were employed Saturday night during the Big Head Todd and the Monsters concert. Those belong to the Aspen Skiing Co., Woods said.The designers offered plans for permanent hearths that are 8 feet in circumference, include seating and cost an estimated $22,600 apiece.Proposals for new signs to help visitors find their way around the core, kiosks with business directories and additional lighting on the malls got a cool response from the council.”There seems to be a very bare, modern feel to a lot of these fixtures,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “I have a hard time visualizing a lot of these elements on the mall.”The directories, showing the location of various shops and restaurants, smacks of visiting the Cherry Creek Mall, she said.Councilman Terry Paulson agreed, calling the proposals “a little too slick, a little too modern.”Mayor Helen Klanderud decried losing the “human element” of finding one’s way around Aspen. “One of the things that I think makes Aspen special is people are always stopping you in the street to ask directions,” she said.A proposal to widen the streams in the malls and make them meander a bit, with undulating landscaping and curved benches on their borders, got mixed reviews.”I think this curved seating thing is great,” Semrau said. “It breaks up the bowling alley.”The design team also proposed opening up the landscaping in the middle of the malls – a place for a fire pit, perhaps. Paulson, however, wasn’t anxious to lose any shade and compared the tunnel-like lines of trees on the malls to an enchanted forest.”You’re talking about dramatic changes to the malls,” Klanderud said, questioning the goal. “You know, not everything is bad about the way it is right now. How far do we have to go to really make it better? How far does it fall short?”Councilman Torre expressed hope that the Silver Circle ice rink can be incorporated into the efforts to enliven the core and questioned how much can be done within the city’s limited budget.The design team – Kevin Dunnett of Dunnett Design, Willis Pember Architects and Art Burrows of Ajax Design & Communication – is expected to meet with the council again in February.The focus on downtown improvements was spurred by the recommendations of a pair of retail consultants last year. They advised improvements to the core to increase “dwell time” – people lingering downtown – to make the retail environment more vibrant.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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