Visitor center idea still alive |

Visitor center idea still alive

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A new visitor center on Main Street is an idea worth further study, the Aspen City Council hesitantly agreed Tuesday after voicing a host of concerns about the proposal.

The city approached property owner Lowell Meyer about redeveloping his building on the northwest corner of Main and Galena streets to accommodate a visitor center and appointed a task force to explore the idea.

Before the task force goes any further, council members were asked to weigh in yesterday.

“The question for tonight is: `Is there a future for this project? Is this something you see being successful?'” said Chris Bendon, a city planner.

The council’s answer was a definite maybe.

Meyer’s property, next to US Bank, currently contains an office building occupied by Hines development. It could be expanded to house a new visitor center and other commercial space on the ground floor, plus the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s offices on the garden level.

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A combination of affordable and free-market housing is also envisioned; the building would be two stories high on Main Street – roughly 30 feet – but actually contain three levels including the lower garden level. It would stay within the 40-foot height limit on the parcel, Bendon said.

The facility would replace the ACRA’s hard-to-find offices and visitor center in front of the parking garage on Rio Grande Place with a more visible spot for tourists looking for information when they come to town, Bendon explained. It would also contain public restrooms.

“I certainly understand the shortfalls of the center as we have it now,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, though she raised concerns about putting a visitor center on a congested corner and the potential need for an additional city subsidy to help the chamber lease the larger space.

The center would have six 15-minute parking spots on Main Street and six more on Galena, across the street from the police station, according to the plan.

“Is it still really going to be convenient with Main Street congestion … is that the easiest place to try to back an RV into the one space that’s open?” Richards asked.

She suggested the existing Rio Grande visitor center be improved instead.

Councilman Terry Paulson alone called for ending all consideration of the site by the task force, which is scheduled to meet again Thursday.

“I don’t see the visitor center being here at all,” he said.

If the ACRA is going to operate another center, in addition to the one in the Wheeler Opera House lobby, it should be on the outskirts of town, he said, suggesting the Buttermilk area.

That doesn’t help summertime traffic coming into town from the east over Independence Pass, countered Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“This is here, coming from both directions,” she said.

The ACRA saw about 135,000 people at its two visitor centers in its last fiscal year, which ended in May, according to Hana Pevny, chamber president.

“We see 30 to 35 percent of the visitors who are coming to the community, so we’re not attracting a lot of them,” she said.

“The whole location on Main Street … is not only to capture more visitors, but to get them to go right into the core to spend their dollars,” she said.

Councilman Torre sided with Klanderud and Richards in letting the task force continue its deliberations, but said he wouldn’t support the new center unless the city concludes it’s the best possible site for it.