Wheeler renovation project advances despite higher pricetag | AspenTimes.com

Wheeler renovation project advances despite higher pricetag

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times

The Aspen City Council approved the Wheeler Opera House contract and a resolution on the affordable-housing credits policy direction Monday night.

City staff requested an additional $1,161,000 toward the Wheeler renovation project. The already-approved budget in 2015 for the project was $3,154,000, though the cost of the project is now estimated at $4,315,000.

The project is at the third and final renovation stage, and the current focus is the lobby, said Project Manager Jeff Pendarvis.

Previous renovations include the space that now houses Justice Snow’s, retail space for Valley Fine Art and the basement-area offices.

Pendarvis said the design team recognized some significant improvements and opportunities that were not in the initial conceptual plan.

The memo lists the following as the four primary areas of renovation:

1. Removal of the demising wall between the box office lobby and grand staircase to open the space to better serve the public.

2. Enhanced remodel of the box office and entire grand staircase corridor along with a better level of finish to all of the public areas of the building, with a focus on durability.

3. A more robust A/V package to provide greater flexibility in the lobby for events that require a higher level of theatrical and performance production.

4. Life-safety improvements required by the Fire Marshall and a new building control system that integrates all aspects of the building’s HVAC system and boiler plant.

Wheeler Executive Director Gena Buhler said the project allows the Wheeler to broaden their scope of programming. Buhler said the Wheeler will be able to host artists they “wouldn’t ordinarily put on main stage — up-and-coming comedians, singers, songwriters, poets, etc.”

Though Pendarvis said it is “probably one of the largest remodels we’ll undertake,” he said “this is the best project on the design side, by far.”

In other council news

In a public hearing on the affordable-housing credits policy, staff proposed a number of code amendments to the Housing Credits chapter. These are intended to clarify the operations of the program and are based on experiences over the past 2 to 3 years, according to a memo written by Long Range Planner Jessica Garrow.

Staff’s suggested policy amendments to include dormitory units, fractional credits and limitations with regard to the public sector, sales, categories and location.

Garrow pointed out that while dorm-style units serve as a housing option for seasonal employees, they generally tend not to represent a long-term housing solution for full-time employees.

Staff’s main concern with granting fractional credits is related to ensuring the unit is permanently affordable.

Staff supported the notion to limit the creation of housing credits to projects that are brought forward from the private sector.

As for sales limitations, staff suggested that units in an entirely affordable-housing building be able to be for sale or rent.

With category limitations, staff recommended codifying that the credit program is limited to category 4 or lower.

Staff recommended the locations limitations program be limited to the city of Aspen to ensure development impacts in Aspen are not pushed to other jurisdictions.

The Housing Board agreed with all of staff’s recommended changes, while the Planning and Zoning Commission agreed with all except the fractional unit requirement.

One group that expressed opposition to categorical limits was Next Gen.

“It is our feeling that having categories 5 to 7 is critical to the affordable-housing program,” Next Gen chair Skippy Mesirou said.

While Mayor Steve Skadron said it is important to note that the organization’s research in determining this conclusion was “anecdotal,” he commended the group for their efforts in reaching out to their age demographic.