Su Lum: Slumming
I have never been in favor of the ZG project, thinking that those public lands were better suited for affordable housing than for county buildings and a new 30,000-square-foot art museum.The county buildings seem to have disappeared for the moment, but the Aspen Art Museum has hung in like a rat terrier, proposing to do it on their own by purchasing the city-owned Rio Grande property (the erstwhile Aspen Youth Center, now a restaurant and public space used by various groups theater, dance, public meetings and the disastrous Democratic caucus), hiring an architect to design it, on the dime of the museums donors, who will also pay for the new museum building itself. A gift.And here the Aspen voters are, cantankerous as always, afraid of change, looking a gift horse in the mouth.A false premise behind the new art museum is that the public wants it, and wants it in that location.Our only opportunity to vote on it came at last years informal ZG meeting where, in response to We want to move forward with the museum as a priority, 47 people gave it a thumbs up, 22 were neutral or undecided, and 30 gave it thumbs down. We are assured that a YES vote only means that the electorate is willing for the city to enter into negotiations with the art museum to buy the Youth Center land. If we say NO, thats the end of a great opportunity; if we say YES, we are only approving further discussion.Make no mistake, a YES vote means we give the City Council (either the present one, one possibly altered after the May 5 election, or a council in the more distant future) the authority to make this land-use decision. And make no mistake about this, either: If the voters approve these negotiations, it will be considered a mandate of public support for the new art museum, and that will be a huge influence on all future decisions.If we vote NO, you can bet this will still come back with more is dotted and more ts crossed, with story poles and dollar amounts, but the bottom line will still be: Is this what Aspen wants? A 30,000-square-foot new art museum? State of the art, cutting edge. Do we need this? Want this?Are we willing to tear down the old youth center and sell off public property to get it?We have a beautiful existing art museum in a prime location. I dont get the argument that we need to get bigger/better, or that by moving it a few feet up the hill will be a boon to our community. I dont understand why an art museum in a town of our size needs a staff of 24 people cramping its existing space.A disingenuous argument has been proffered, saying that this public land is more appropriate than any existing privately owned land, because the art museum is FREE and hence should be located next to the library, which is also free, thus constituting a free zone in the core of Aspen. On the other hand, the other side of the new museum would be next to the county JAIL, the epitome of non-freedom.I have no idea how this vote will turn out, but I am voting No.
Su Lum is a longtime local who anticipates problems ahead for the Wheeler Opera House expansion. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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