Power Plant people meet their objectors
Organizers of the Aspen Power Plant were stung with criticism from opponents who cast doubt on their nonprofit status at a meeting Monday, but left with a better understanding of their opposition’s mind set.
The meeting was held in advance of an Aspen City Council hearing set for June in which it will publicly negotiate the lease for the 590 N. Mill St. civic building, which currently is the temporary home of the Pitkin County Library while its permanent residence is remodeled and expanded.
Members of Aspen Power Plant said they are willing to provide the draft lease to the public once they receive the city’s approval. Opponents to the project who attended the meeting said they were hamstrung in the discussion because they had no knowledge of the lease terms.
The Power Plant team in March 2015 received the city’s approval for a multifaceted proposal that has since morphed into a project that includes 3,000 square feet of the upstairs space used for 65 desks and/or offices for entrepreneurs and business people, with the 3,500-square-foot downstairs space occupied by the Aspen 82 television station, a business called 82 Events and a restaurant called The Watershed.
In February, Aspen Power Plant Inc. registered as a nonprofit corporation with the Colorado Secretary of State. However, Power Plant Inc., which would be the leaseholder for the four businesses, has not obtained tax-exempt status from the IRS.
The restaurant, TV station and events programmer are all for-profit entities. Power Plant officials said they did not know if the incubator/generator space will be for-profit or nonprofit. That status, they said, cannot be determined until they secure a lease.
“At this point, we are not sure what the generator is going to be,” said Chris Bryan, counsel for Aspen Power Plant. “We can’t honestly say if it’s going to be a nonprofit or a for-profit.”
Alan Schwartz, one of the attorneys representing the nearby Oklahoma Flats residents who oppose alcohol service at the building, questioned why Aspen Power Plant Inc., as the leaseholder for the four businesses, is a nonprofit. “If it is for-profit, everything under the nonprofit umbrella, … it’s really weird to me,” he said. “Everything that’s under the umbrella I’m holding is for-profit. So what’s the point of the umbrella if it’s not raining?”
Although the property in question is zoned public, the Power Plant project in its current form isn’t necessarily a shoe-in. City Attorney Jim True, who attended part of the meeting, said if the project doesn’t meet the zoning requirements if the Aspen Power Plant doesn’t achieve tax-exempt status, it could seek a planned development overlay that would allow its occupancy.
A public zone district that Aspen Power Plant would be in permits multiple uses, including both public and private nonprofit uses providing a community service.
Another Oklahoma Flats attorney, Matt Ferguson, said the revelation last month that the property is zoned public and not residential as the city had maintained is “one of the reasons we find ourselves in this position” of questioning the project’s integrity.
“They find out it’s public zoning and then they go for nonprofit status,” he said. “And if you’re not tax-exempt, you can go through the planned development overlay.”
David Cook and Spencer McKnight, co-owners of Aspen 82, and Gordon Bronson, who is overseeing the office project, maintained that the generator/incubator space is a public service that currently isn’t being met. It will provide both young and old business types the opportunity to work in a professional environment with networking opportunities. The neighbors’ well-established opposition to the alcohol service also should be tempered by the fact that the office users won’t put up with the noise factor either.
Bronson insisted he would have “zero tolerance” for rowdiness below.
The restaurant would close at 10 p.m. each night, and the events service would be limited to 25 occurrences a year.
“If you didn’t have cocktails and drinks, you’d have a much easier time with this,” said Oklahoma Flats resident Bill Budinger.
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.