Willits arts center inches closer to reality after feasibility study | AspenTimes.com

Willits arts center inches closer to reality after feasibility study

This rendering depicts the vision of The Arts Campus At Willits. Proponents hope to host 190 events annually by 2020.
TACAW/courtesy image |


•The employment negotiations between the council and town manager prospect Ryan Mahoney continue to drag on. The sticking point is housing or a housing allowance. The council considered a counter-proposal from Mahoney in executive session, closed to the public, Tuesday night.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said earlier in the day, “The town offered housing and he countered with a different idea.”

Whitsitt wouldn’t divulge after the meeting if the board accepted his proposal. She said she had contacted the town’s headhunter Tuesday after the closed session with instructions to reach out to Mahoney.

•A retail marijuana license and a medical marijuana license were issued to Neat Things LLC on behalf of Norm and Laura Clasen. They want to open the businesses on the ground floor of the Three Bears Building at 174 Midland Ave., which they own.

Basalt makes only two retail and two medical marijuana licenses available. One retail license was issued years ago to Roots Rx, which operates at 165 Southside Dr. Neither of the available medical marijuana licenses was in use prior to Tuesday’s action.

•The riverside park at the center of Basalt controversy for years will finally come to fruition this summer — at least some of it. The council voted to award a contract for $220,927 to lay sod on about 1 acre of land it owns along the Roaring Fork River at the former Pan and Fork site. The funds will come from the existing open space and trails fund.

The contract was awarded to Tamerrel Excavation Inc, which is currently installing a culvert at the site on a separate contract. Six inches of topsoil will be installed and topped with sod grass. Full use is anticipated by late July or early August.

The fate of an adjacent 2.3-acres of land that abuts Two Rivers Road is still unknown. The town is looking into buying the property from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp.

•The firm that owns Basalt Mini-Storage was granted approval to expand. Its proposal is to phase in four buildings of approximately 20,000 square feet each. The expansion will be to the south, toward Basalt High School.

Basalt moved a step closer Tuesday night to pursuing a performing-arts center that could host 190 events annually by 2020.

The Town Council concluded that a proposal for The Arts Campus at Willits is “reasonably feasible and viable.” It directed its staff to work with arts center proponents on a long-term lease on three-quarters of an acre of town-owned land at Willits.

“I think this community is ready,” said Ryan Honey, managing director of The Arts Campus at Willits. He said the organization has $400,000 in pledges for the facility. Donors want to see a lease before committing, he said.

The council’s direction came after an independent analysis by a company called ACG determined the concept of the arts center is “fundamentally sound.”

“ACG recommends to the town of Basalt there is enough positive information in place for the town to proceed to contract for a lease of the land at the Willits site to TACAW,” the study said.

A conclusion of the study added, “As proposed, The Arts Campus at Willits will undoubtedly be a significant cultural asset for the town of Basalt and a cultural resource for the entire midvalley region.”

However, the study didn’t resolve two major issues: Is there enough of a market to support the arts center and is there a donor base to keep it floating?

“Though there are many positive indicators, the market (audience) potential for TACAW and its programs is unclear,” the study acknowledged. Fundraising potential also needs a deeper look, the study said.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer seized on those points. She said those critical issues need to be addressed before the town commits to a long-term lease.

Honey said The Arts Campus at Willits is prepared to rent 2,500 square feet at Willits Town Center for a temporary performing-arts center that will open this summer. It will provide a preview of the music, film, dance and culinary events envisioned for the permanent structure. The Arts Campus will learn what its audience wants, Honey assured the council, and incorporate the findings into its long-term plan.

He called the temporary center a better investment than a market analysis.

A lot of details still must be worked out on the lease and in the financial aid offered by the town. There is a real estate transfer assessment on real estate sales in Willits Town Center partially dedicated to a performing-arts center. The council will consider tweaking terms of use in the future that would allow use for operations.

The proposed lease has numerous performance requirements. If The Arts Campus at Willits hasn’t completed construction and acquired a certificate of occupancy in July 2022, the lease is broken. Honey said the organization plans to be running prior to the deadline.

Schwoerer urged a slower pace. “It just feels like it’s a rushed process,” she said. She noted that many Aspen-area nonprofits have started small and grown slowly over the years after determining their direction.

The council unanimously decided to agree to pursue the lease, though members agreed additional conditions must be resolved in future work sessions. They will start working on those details May 23.