Wheeler, others interested in Aspen Art Museum’s current location
August 17, 2010
ASPEN – Several Aspen nonprofits, including the Wheeler Opera House, are cautiously eyeing the Aspen Art Museum’s current building as a potential spot to expand their operation.
The museum plans to vacate the location just north of the city core in 2013. Wheeler administrators, perhaps the most interested in the property, are including the site as one of a number of potential options in a report it will submit next month to the city. The report will detail what the venue will need in the future as it expands.
The city requested the report at the end of last year.
“Wheeler staff has personally walked through the [art museum] building, and it offers a tremendous amount of potential for a Wheeler second stage,” said Gram Slaton, executive director of the Wheeler, in an e-mail. “There are drawbacks, however, such as the distance to the main hall, and considerations about the soils and flood-plain aspects of being so close to the water there.”
The building sits on the banks of the Roaring Fork River.
The art museum plans to move from its location on North Mill Street to the downtown core as part of a settlement deal in a lawsuit with the owner of the Wienerstube building (not to be confused with the Wienerstube restaurant), which aims to redevelop the downtown property.
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The owner, 633 Spring Street LLC, sued the city after the City Council struck down a 2007 proposal to redevelop the site, partially for luxury housing. That proposal did not include the relocation of the museum.
Other nonprofits that are looking at the building – once a hydropower plant before the city gave it to the art museum – as a possibility have said the building could make a good venue, but it was too early to tell.
John Masters, executive director of GrassRoots TV, said the station had looked at moving into the property after the museum asked voters for permission to move into a community center closer to town. That ballot item failed by a nearly 2-1 vote.
Masters said the station had since moved to expand its current locale in the Red Brick Art and Recreation Center, which also houses a large number of other nonprofits.
“We’ve added some space here at the Red Brick,” Masters said, and the station is still committed to utilizing new space that has yet to be built. “It’s an awesome space for a television station; it is perfect for us. … But we also need to do what we’re doing and keep moving forward.”
Andrew Todd, executive director of Aspen Public Radio, said the station was not currently interested in using the museum.
More strings could now be attached to the site; he pointed to the fact that Aspen currently charges the museum $1 a year for rent. That could end in public battles over the way the space will be used if the city doesn’t raise the rent, Todd said.
“We would prefer to stay here. … There’s just not enough information to act on,” he said.
The City Council envisions the building as a venue for free community use.
Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First, which also operates from the Red Brick, said day-care center officials have looked at the property. But, like everyone else, their position is that it is too early to make a definitive decision.
“There have been conversations, but very mixed, and we need a lot of information,” she said.
City attorneys this week will decide if putting an item concerning the relocation of the Aspen Art Museum on the November ballot is legal, said John Worcester, the city’s legal council.
Toni Kronberg, a regular speaker at City Council meetings and a longtime activist, last week submitted a petition for a ballot item that would ask voters about moving the museum to downtown Aspen – a move the council approved earlier this month.
The decision hinges on whether the issue is legislative or administrative; only a legislative issue can be put on the ballot. Kronberg said she hopes she will be able to meet with city attorneys sometime Tuesday.
Some community members said the process the City Council used to make the decision circumvented the usual public process of land-use approvals.
It was an unusual process in which the City Council decided to settle litigation between the city and the owner of the site of the proposed museum, 633 Spring Street LLC.
Debate leading up to the deal was highlighted by concern about the unusual process of what is essentially a land-use approval coming in the form of a lawsuit settlement.
And some land-use approval steps were skipped during that process, critics say.
The Planning and Zoning Commission vets most land-use proposals before they go to the City Council. That didn’t happen with this proposal.
Chris Bendon, the city’s director of community development, said he was comfortable with the process, adding that planning and zoning officials had a chance to review the proposal, but declined.
The two developments that will come from council’s approval are the 30,000-square-foot new museum on the corner of Spring Street and Hyman Avenue, and a 15,000-square-foot redevelopment of the current space on which the Wienerstube restaurant sits, 11,250 square feet of which is dedicated to commercial leasing.
Of the museum, 10,000 square feet would be underground, and 12,000 square feet would be dedicated to galleries – more space than the museum’s current spot offers. Plans call for a glass building encased in a transparent, wooden facade.