Wheeler Opera House proposes $3M renovation

Staff report

The Wheeler Opera House is proposing a comprehensive remodel of its entire second floor, an estimated $3 million project that would conclude a three-part renovation for the historic building built in 1889.

The Wheeler has undergone two major projects in the past three years, with a $2.8 million first-floor remodel in 2011 and a $3 million balcony and technology upgrade in 2013.

The latest project, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2015 and conclude before the new year, would mean a complete demolition and remodeling of the second floor. The layout of the floor is dictated by a massive vault used originally for Jerome Wheeler’s commercial-banking operation. By removing the vault and integrating the vault door, the Wheeler sees opportunities to add backstage space, a coat check, a warming kitchen for caterers and a large lobby area.

The present lobby accommodates 268 people, while the theater chamber holds 504, a memorandum to the Aspen City Council states. The new design would move the capacity of the lobby closer to 300.

Plans also call for replacement of the Wheeler’s heating and cooling system that feeds the audience chamber, which was originally scheduled for replacement in 2014 at a cost of $200,000. Heating-and-cooling software upgrades also are suggested in the memo as well as roof-membrane replacement.

“The life of the existing rubber membrane on the Wheeler roof has been long-exhausted and leaks simply patched for many years now,” the memo states. “This is scheduled for replacement in 2016, but the Wheeler’s building manager feels strongly that we are at risk of systematic failure and it cannot wait until that time.”

Finally, the Wheeler suggests a box-office remodel. The box-office lobby has gone through three redesigns since 1984, most recently in 2004.

“With the changes in technology and patron traffic flow as well as the quality of materials used through these various remodels, the box-office lobby does not serve either staff or the patron experience well,” the memo states.

The Wheeler has requested a $3 million placeholder in the city’s 2015 capital planning budget. The City Council will offer input on the proposal Tuesday during a work session.