Snowmass council seeks more information before making Base Village community purpose decision
The Aspen Times
The Snowmass Village Town Council isn’t ready to sign a deal with Snowmass Discovery or Related Colorado regarding the community purpose that was proposed at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Related is proposing to construct a building shell that would potentially house the Ice Age Discovery Center, but Snowmass council members say they need more information about Snowmass Discovery’s financials — specifically how much money the organization can realistically raise in order to build and operate the center.
Snowmass Discovery says it needs $8.2 million, but Executive Director Tom Cardamone said advisers are telling him that it’s too early to kick off a capital campaign-feasibility study without a location secured. He was not able to give an estimate on how long the fundraising would take.
Mayor Markey Butler said without that confidence, she was uncomfortable taking such a risk on behalf of the town. Snowmass Discovery presented a document outlining projected revenues and expenses, but Butler called it “under-stated and overly optimistic.”
“It’s that whole issue of not knowing what you don’t know,” Butler said.
Councilman Bob Sirkus said the town needs to know that Snowmass Discovery can fulfill its end of the deal before the town can commit.
But Councilman Bill Madsen was ready to take some risk by signing on with Snowmass Discovery. If the town leads the charge, the money will follow, he said.
“I think we need to, as a whole, get behind this, and once we do that there will be more money that follows it,” he said. “I think the Base Village is the right place for a discovery center, and I think this is the right time.”
Snowmass resident Jack Kennedy tossed out another idea — taking cash in lieu from Related and using it to build a multi-use building that would include the discovery center at the town-owned Point Site land next to Town Hall.
Kennedy said that location could possibly become a civic cultural campus accessible via a pedestrian bridge from Base Village, he said.
But Don Schuster, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president of hospitality, said any community-proposed plan for Point Site would have to factor in major considerations such as parking requirements, employee housing mitigation, the site’s steep grade, fire department access and the expense of a pedestrian bridge, which he estimates would cost at least $2 million.
Schuster noted that Skico customers love visiting the discovery center and that according to Tripadvisor, it’s the second most popular activity in town behind skiing.
The council — minus Chris Jacobson, who was absent — agreed that it wanted to see some fundraising milestone commitments from Snowmass Discovery, as well as more information from Kennedy and the other community members behind the Point Site idea.
Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk said she didn’t feel comfortable taking cash in lieu from Related without a clear idea of how the money would be used.
The cash-in-lieu number Related has presented is $4.5 million, but the town wants more information before it would agree to a specific number.
And if the town isn’t comfortable moving forward with Snowmass Discovery, it could commit to accepting the building from Related as the community-purpose fulfillment without committing to a specific tenant, Madsen said.
Town Manager Clint Kinney said if the town went that route, it could issue a request for proposals and weigh various tenant options.
The rest of Related’s proposed community purposes — a fountain, ice skating rink and events plaza that could be used for things such as movie screenings and small concerts — were well received by the council.
“These are things we think are really important to the vitality to the Base Village,” Madsen said.
The town’s next steps are to determine whether Snowmass Discovery’s capital campaign and fundraising milestones are feasible, and what the town’s liability would be should it accept the building option from Related without total confidence from Snowmass Discovery. The town also wants to see a presentation from the community about the Point Site idea, potentially as soon as next week’s meeting.