What’s next in store for the Armory Hall building?
With Aspen voters narrowly approving the future of Aspen City Hall for a community use, the next step is for city leaders to dig deeper into what the public wants.
Votes totaled 1,396 in favor of converting the old Armory Hall building to a community center, compared with 1,313 who preferred retaining its use for city office. The vote was advisory in nature.
With concerns about the ballot question’s language, one group’s conceptual proposal, and Base2 dominating the election talk, Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch said the next step for the Armory site’s future isn’t exactly clear.
Frisch said he thinks the next step with the Armory site is for the city to seek direction from the community and have a public discussion for people to explore its possibilities.
“One group has an idea that’s built up a lot of community support, and I think it’s wonderful, but we need to hear other ideas,” Frisch said.
“But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves by presumptuously assuming it’s going to pass,” Frisch said.
Developer Bruce Etkin’s team, along with Darnauer Group Marketing & PR, campaigned to return the site to its historic use as a community center.
Etkin, who lives in Aspen full time but does business in Denver, has led the project from its start, both in forming the Armory Hall Restoration Committee and in the money he’s invested thus far. Etkin said he has spent $38,000 on the project to date and has vowed to spend as much as $100,000 on the site’s study as a community center.
Etkin envisions a facility that can host dances, theatrical performances, political speeches, community gatherings, potluck dinners and more. He said he’d like to see small and large rooms for groups to meet as well as rooms with video-conferencing capabilities.
“The whole building will be technologically advanced with a technological backbone,” Etkin said.
It would be a multipurpose facility so conferences, events and meetings can happen simultaneously, he said.
Another component to Etkin’s vision in restoring the Armory building includes knocking out its third floor.
“There’s a lot of opportunity once you open it up and create that vision,” Etkin said, adding that he’s sure many people will have ideas for the space once they see it without the third floor.
Etkin said he thinks the community center’s revenue model should operate similar to the Wheeler Opera House — which, like the Armory building, also is owned by the city — because nonprofits and for-profits would pay different amounts to lease the space.
Etkin also said he hopes to form a team that consists of members of City Council and the city as well as representatives from the Wheeler and Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
Etkin estimated the study process to take about a year to complete.
“Then we’ll go back to council with all of the facts and present it before the community, who will determine if this is what they want,” he said.
“The good news is we have plenty of time because the city isn’t vacating the building for another three years,” Etkin said.
“So if this all doesn’t pan out, we’ll still have two years for council to decide what might be an appropriate use for this building,” he added.
While Frisch said he thinks communal discussion and brainstorming needs to take place in determining the site’s future, he said Etkin has given the community a gift by starting this dialogue.
“If he didn’t step up with his efforts, I think we’d be having a very different conversation right now,” Frisch said.
Aspen City Council will meet in a work session to continue discussion of the Armory site Nov. 16, according to city Capital Asset Director Jack Wheeler.
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