Snowmass Discovery’s plans to build Ice Age museum hinge on stalled development’s completion |

Snowmass Discovery’s plans to build Ice Age museum hinge on stalled development’s completion

Special to the Snowmass SunIntern Kaitlin Stanley, left, and Dr. Kirk Johnson clean a mastodon tusk under a tent to protect the tusk from sunlight.

Snowmass Discovery’s plans to operate its Ice Age Discovery Center out of a town-owned building could go extinct if developers won’t finish Base Village.

Tom Cardamone, the nonprofit’s executive director, and John Rigney, its chairman, met with Snowmass Village Town Council members in a work session Monday to discuss a memorandum of understanding that Snowmass Discovery needs in order to move forward with fundraising efforts. Instead, they faced a lot of criticism and skepticism from council members — Bill Madsen and Alyssa Shenk were absent — mostly related to the uncertainty of the completion of Base Village.

“We all know that very little, if anything, is happening with that thing across the street,” Councilman Bob Sirkus said, referring to Base Village. “We don’t know if it’s ever going to happen.”

Related Colorado’s pending litigation over the stalled development has things at a standstill, a point that Mayor Markey Butler said concerns her.

“We’re really good about not getting anything done across the street — and it’s not us, it’s someone else,” she said.

Snowmass Discovery wants to build a museum that would exhibit the Ice Age fossils, including mammoth and mastodon fossils, discovered at Ziegler Reservoir just outside of town limits in 2010. Related Colorado, the developer of Base Village, has agreed to convey Building 6 to the town as a community benefit to offset the impact of land-use variances in the project. The draft memorandum of understanding says the town would maintain ownership of the building but would lease the majority of it to Snowmass Discovery.

Rigney and Cardamone contend that donors aren’t going to get on board with a project unless the memorandum is in place, guaranteeing things like the permanent location, town support and a long-term lease. Rigney said the lease needs to be at least 30 years, but Snowmass Discovery would like it to be 50 years, in order to court donors. The town would still have the right to terminate the lease if the nonprofit wasn’t operating in compliance with the lease terms, based on Monday’s discussion.

Butler said she wasn’t willing to go 50 years on a lease, and Sirkus suggested five-year renewable leases, to which Rigney and Cardamone opposed.

“No way we’re going to go out and raise $6 million for a 5-year lease,” Rigney said.

He was referring to a $2 million endowment and $4 million in construction costs the organization needs to raise. Snowmass Discovery Board member Rhonda Bazil agreed that a five-year lease would be “a hard sell.”

Councilman Tom Goode suggested that Snowmass Discovery come up with a plan B due to the uncertainty surrounding Base Village, but Rigney and Cardamone maintained that the memorandum of understanding guaranteeing the permanent location is the next logical step if the group is to gain any fundraising traction.

He told council members to look at the big picture of Snowmass Discovery — the place, the programming, the traffic and the tax revenue are what’s at stake, he said.

Sirkus, Butler and Goode all cautioned Town Manager Clint Kinney about potential lease terms. They said they wanted to make sure the town wasn’t obligating too much financially, such as building maintenance costs or potential subsidies for the nonprofit. Butler pointed toward the Snowmass Recreation Center as a project that nobody ever anticipated would need government support but that now requires annual subsidies.

Butler said she was considering whether to ask voters about the level of support the community is willing to give, with Goode and Sirkus agreeing.

Kinney cautioned that if they choose to ask voters in an election, the council better be on board with the idea first. Asking voters something that members think is a bad idea isn’t what voters elected them to do, Kinney said.

In the end, Butler wanted more numbers from the nonprofit’s business plan, which Cardamone said he could provide. Kinney said he would work on adding language to the memorandum of understanding that would address some of the council’s concerns such as lease terms, ongoing costs and whether Snowmass Discovery can create the fundraising momentum it needs, among other issues.

Cardamone stressed that signing the memorandum would be a vote in spirit for the project. Language could be written that wouldn’t bind the parties should Building 6 not get built, but it would at least allow Snowmass Discovery to move forward with meaningful plans and fundraising.

“If we had the MOU in place, everything could move forward,” he said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.