Town, nonprofit try to unify over Snowmass discovery center |

Town, nonprofit try to unify over Snowmass discovery center

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
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.

Full support from the Snowmass Village Town Council is essential to the success of a permanent Ice Age discovery center, but so far there is at least a perception that it doesn’t exist, according to a consultant.

That issue came up in a special meeting Monday when the council was set to give at least some direction on whether it will lease a future Base Village building for the center. No decision was made on the building question, but the elected officials did vote to draft a “memorandum of understanding” conveying their continued support for getting the facility off the ground.

The thousands of fossils — which include bones from mastodons, mammoths, camels, horses, birds and salamanders, as well as plant fossils — were unearthed in 2010 after crews began a project to expand the Ziegler Reservoir in Snowmass Village. Right away, Snowmass Village realized it had an opportunity to both market and commemorate the historic find, although the Town Council decided early on that it should not spearhead the effort, Mayor Markey Butler said Monday.

“The Town Council never saw this town as being in the business of running a museum,” said Butler, who was a council member when the fossils were found. But at the same time, the council also “wanted to make sure we continued to celebrate what has been discovered.”

That is what led to the formation of Snowmass Discovery as a nonprofit, which has since conducted studies on the potential success of a center, the space and capacity it would need, and most recently, a fundraising feasibility study by Denver-based consultant Peter Kellogg, which was presented at Monday’s meeting.

That study was requested by the council to help determine whether the center would be viable as a use or the sole use of Base Village Building 6, which will be conveyed to the town by the developer as a community benefit to offset the impact of land-use variances in the project.

“I would put forth that council is very supportive of the discovery center moving forward,” Butler said. “The question is, how do we do that and what does that mean?”

Kellogg’s report said some survey respondents perceive the Town Council as “delaying the progress” of the discovery center. Councilman Bob Sirkus asked where that came from, particularly because the town has contributed a total of $409,000 to the nonprofit and the operations of a temporary discovery center on the Snowmass Village Mall, not including the compensation for guest-services employees who work there.

Snowmass Discovery board members clarified Monday that they were not part of the survey and that the report did not reflect their opinions (respondents had some criticism for the organization, too). However, the question sparked debate about where that perception was coming from, and how it might negatively affect a future capital campaign.

Kellogg’s report states that the nonprofit has the potential to raise $4 million to $6 million in capital. He estimates that will take about three years, so Snowmass Discovery needs to find funding for operations during that timeframe, secure a long-term lease and formalize that support from town leadership. The nonprofit will likely ask the town to help with some of those operational costs over the next year, budgeted to cost $250,000, according to board member Bob Purvis.

“I applaud your prudence, but to me the things I’ve been involved with here in the valley have started simply with passion,” said longtime resident John McBride, who helped develop the Snowmass Village Mall and helped the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies get started, too. “You’ll make the numbers work. It’s the spirit that’ll energize the whole thing and make it go.”

The discovery center is forecasted to bring in 35,000 visitors annually, Purvis said. The current site on the mall, which is smaller and simpler than the permanent facility is envisioned to be, attracted 30,000 guests over the past year.

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