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Marc Friedberg: Guest opinion

Marc Friedberg
Aspen, CO Colorado

As a longtime resident of Aspen intimately acquainted with the plans of the Aspen Art Museum and the rules and regulations of real estate transactions and Aspen land use, I wanted to clarify a few key points on the May 5th ballot issue that would allow the City of Aspen to negotiate a possible sale of the former Youth Center site next to Galena Plaza to the AAM for the purpose of building a new museum. Most of what I have read recently simply ignores the facts.

Why is this an issue now? For the first time in 30 years, the Aspen Art Museum has the clear direction, community interest, committed leadership, and the financial capacity necessary to create a new art museum for Aspen. This project is “shovel ready.” The museum has the necessary funds to purchase the land and begin construction. The Aspen Art Museum is prepared to pay a fair price for the property and has an appraisal in hand. Having said this, the forthcoming vote simply allows for negotiations to take place. It is not, as some believe, a mandate to a future City Council. All subsequent land use hearings and procedures will have to be addressed before any final decisions can be reached.

In addition ” and this is very important ” the cost of the project is 100 percent privately funded. There is NO cost to the taxpayer. The AAM anticipates a cost of $20 million on the construction in addition to the cost for the land. The museum also enjoys an ample endowment going forward, which should allay any unfounded concerns as to the museum’s capability to remain viable to its mission and to all of its constituencies.

Some people have asked why the AAM needs a new space and how big the new building would be. The current facility is 7,000 square feet and, last year, had 24,500 visitors ” a 100 percent increase over the previous year. Much of the increase has to do with the fact that the AAM is now completely FREE to visitors. Additionally there are 1,000 current, active members and expectations of 2,000 students who will visit the AAM by the end of this school year.

It should also be noted that in 2006, Aspen City Council approved the city of Aspen Civic Master Plan which in turn supports “the Aspen Art Museum’s exploration of downtown locations in collaboration with the city of Aspen.” It cited numerous challenges related to the current AAM location including parking limitations, the building’s historic designation ” which precludes any changes to the building flood plain and related environmental issues, as well as the difficulty of actually finding the museum. In short, demand has exceeded both the capacity and the capabilities of the current building.

The new facility is projected to be 30,000 square feet, with much of the structure placed below ground. Original plans for the former Youth Center property also included underground space, but due to a lack of funds, those plans were never realized and as such the site is significantly underutilized. The AAM’s projected program specifically takes advantage of the opportunity to build underground. The majority of the new AAM building will be increased exhibition space, as well as amenities not available at the current facility, including a multi-use classroom space, public meeting space, a library, an artist studio, and an affordable, commercial, locally serving and owned restaurant. Expanded amenities for visitors also include additional restroom facilities and an elevator.

To conclude, I have heard the concerns that allowing the AAM to go forward will take away “valuable community space” when, in fact, it will actually add to it. The AAM’s current facility served as an incubator for an organization that had an operating budget of $190,000 in 1979 and now sustains operational expenses of more than $2,750,000. The current space, which is leased from the city, will continue to provide opportunity to enhance our community in a variety of ways. I am far from alone in stating it, but the plan to move forward with this project is sound and will enhance all of our experiences of Aspen. I encourage you to visit the AAM ” which is free to everyone, all the time ” if you have further questions, and I also encourage you to vote yes on Ballot Question No. 1. The time has most certainly come!


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