Referendum 2A: A new visitor center?

Janet Urquhart
A rendering of the proposed visitor center on the corner Main and Galena streets. Image courtesy Bill Poss and Associates.

Aspen voters will decide Nov. 2 whether a Main Street visitor center is a tourism amenity and a heck of a good deal, or an unnecessary and ill-conceived addition to an already busy corner.Confusingly, supporters of the proposal will need to vote “no” on Referendum 2A, as in “no, don’t repeal the city’s zoning approval for the project,” while opponents of the new visitor center should cast a “yes” vote to halt the project.The project’s private developers, owners of the property at the corner of Galena and Main streets, brought forward a plan to redevelop the site with a building that includes a new visitor center at the city’s suggestion.Initially, the city was to purchase the space intended for the visitor center and Aspen Chamber Resort Association offices. With opponents of the project collecting signatures to put the project’s approval to a public vote, however, the developers strategically sweetened the proposal by offering to give the space – with an estimated market value of $2 million – to the city at no cost.

“It’s a very valuable asset to the city that’s free, and it may improve the visitor experience … I don’t see any reason not to accept it,” said City Councilman Tim Semrau, recently debating the merits of the gift.The ACRA argues the more visible center will pull in more visitors, who will find information about lodging and events that may entice them in to staying a night or two instead of just passing through. In addition, the new visitor center will offer public restrooms and a lobby where information will be available even when the center is closed.The bottom line, says the ACRA, is an opportunity to boost the local economy.And, even if voters turn down the visitor center plan, a new building at the site remains a possibility. Developers are reportedly pursuing an alternative redevelopment plan.”There are building rights on this lot, the same building could be built anyway,” Semrau noted.

The project’s detractors say not enough has been done to direct visitors to the existing visitor center, tucked in front of the Rio Grande parking garage a block away. That’s the logical site for the center, they argue, given the convenient parking in the garage.They also object to the loss of Main Street parking spaces, designated for the new center, and the removal of landscaping on the library plaza to accommodate police car parking. Squad car spaces on Galena would be reassigned to the visitor center.Three spruces on Main Street would be removed for the project; they’ll likely be removed anyway if an alternative project is approved. And, note city officials, all the landscaping on the plaza will have to be removed eventually to repair the leaking roof of the parking garage below it.Councilman Terry Paulson, who opposes the project along with Councilman Torre, questions the need for a new visitor center, even if it is free. The existing center can be improved, and most travelers get their information off the Internet these days, he contends.”Don’t put a traffic magnet in the central core, where you’re trying to get rid of traffic,” Paulson added.

Opposition to the project has been spearheaded by condo owners at Galena Lofts, whose views would be blocked with the development. They have filed a lawsuit over the project.Separate to the litigation, though, 745 registered voters signed a petition to put Referendum 2A on the ballot, noted Candy Allen, whose husband is a plaintiff in the suit. “It’s not just a Galena Lofts issue,” she told The Aspen Times. “Those people couldn’t care less about what goes on at Galena Lofts.” Janet Urquhart’s email address is