Blumenthal: A gift horse worth looking at | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: A gift horse worth looking at

Mel Blumenthal

Notwithstanding the Snowmass Discovery board’s desire to locate its proposed Ice Age Discovery Center on prime beachfront real estate in the heart of Base Village, the town staff and many of the rest of us have other ideas how to maximize vibrancy in the center of our resort.

During the recently concluded Base Village sketch plan review, Related offered the town a significant chunk of cash in lieu of building the previously approved community aqua center now made redundant by our entryway rec center. Related offered the town cash to build a community purpose facility(s) that better meets the current and future needs and desires of our residents and guests.

But somewhere between the end of the sketch plan review and Related’s submission of its preliminary plan application, its thinking changed. Perhaps due to visions of bigger sugarplums derived from relocating five large residential units from the less than ideally located building 6 to prime view locations on the top of buildings 7 and 8.

Without high-priced residential units to sell in Bldg. 6 they now propose off-loading this building to the town to serve as the home of our Ice Age Discovery Center. I assume Related thought this proposal would resonate well with the community and hopefully distract us from wondering whether they might be gifting us with a white elephant.

From the viewpoint of the Snowmass Discovery board as well as Related, it sounds like a good plan, but from the community’s standpoint, it’s fraught with danger signs everywhere.

It’s critically important that we populate the Base Village commercial core with lots of diverse and attractive retail, food, beverage and entertainment facilities in order to attract and entice our visitors and guests to spend more of their tourist dollars in the village as opposed to other up or downvalley locations.

The Ice Age Discovery Center, although of interest to many and an attraction that differentiates us from other resorts, is not the type of attraction to create and sustain the amount of vibrancy needed in our resort core. Without its own collection of actual prehistoric artifacts, which will continue to reside at the Denver Museum, I’m skeptical that visitors in large enough numbers will return year after year to see mere replicas along with a smattering of the real bones. If I’m right and they don’t come in large numbers, we’re in lots of trouble.

Related is offering to build the shell of the building but it’s up to the town or whatever entity occupies the building to finance the construction and outfitting of the interior along with the significant ongoing maintenance and multiple homeowners associations and other fees levied in Base Village.

At this point the Snowmass Discovery board hasn’t begun to raise the funds needed to cover any of these costs, and it’s unlikely that even if they were to begin a capital campaign today they’d be able to raise the construction funds and endowment to cover the ongoing costs, estimated in the neighborhood of $10 million, prior to the completion of the preliminary plan review and likely much longer, if achievable at all.

The town staff has indicated its reluctance to take on the ownership of the building and the costs associated with this gift from Related. The staff is suggesting the addition of another floor to attract a more vibrant and compelling food and beverage operation, something sorely lacking in Base Village, and is signaling its reluctance to take on the responsibility and costs at taxpayers’ expense that go along with ownership, outfitting and operation of this building.

Lucky for us Related’s offer of a huge pile of cash is still on the table although for the reasons stated earlier in this commentary not their preferred choice.

Their offer so far is $4.5 million but that’s just the beginning of the negotiation. The valuation of the land and cost to construct their community purpose aqua center is in the neighborhood of $7 million. There’s still a lot of money left on the table.

Cash is king, and with it we’ll have the time and flexibility to plan a community purpose facility that benefits the entire community as well as our visitors and guests over the long term. One such facility being discussed is a multi-use cultural center proposed to be built on town-owned land adjacent to Town Hall incorporating a connecting bridge over Brush Creek Road providing a scenic two-minute walk to and from Base Village.

The conceptualized vision of a multi-use cultural center, which would also serve as an iconic entrance to our resort core, could include facilities for commercial and festival film exhibition, theatre, music, dance as well as a purpose-built facility to house our Ice Age Discovery Center and possibly Aspen’s Science Center, which has explored a home in Snowmass Village. This is a much better community purpose multi-use environment and provides a greater opportunity to successfully raise the required funds to build and operate — and best of all it starts off its capital campaign with a multimillion dollar contribution from Related.

Let your elected representatives know your thoughts and desires concerning what you’d like to see as the fulfillment of Related’s community purpose obligations.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome at secondview@earthlink.net.


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