An Aspen marketplace to call our own

View from the Galena Street entry mezzanine looking onto the main basement marketplace below. The present proposal would exclude the two upper balconies pictured here in order to minimize initial construction costs, but such additions could be made later.
Concept sketch

Last July, we informed Aspen City Council that we were preparing a proposal for public consideration. We wish now to present this proposition to all Aspen citizens and friends for reflection and hoped-for support.

With the new City Hall now under construction, the city of Aspen is planning continued use of the old armory hall for mainly municipal offices. Subsequent to its original militia service and before becoming Aspen’s current City Hall, the 19th century armory had once been enjoyed as a community gymnasium, dance hall and roller rink.

Instead of an office structure as now assumed, we propose that the historic building be resurrected as a fun and festive Aspen “commons” with a community market as its principal focus. This marketplace would provide a central, indoor setting where patrons could enjoy the cheerful ambience of home-craft shopping and snack-food tasting, much like a year-round extension of Aspen’s wonderful summer Saturday market, which first inspired this proposal.

Besides generating revenue, the commons marketplace also would benefit the Aspen community by the lease of stalls at minimal cost to local artisans and merchants who aspire to become entrepreneurs. Existing businesses would likewise be invited to set up “teaser outlets” or displays to promote their primary locations. Students especially would be encouraged by token rents to participate as fledgling entrepreneurs or as developers of this Aspen version of Seattle’s Pike Place, the Cannery in San Francisco, or Covent Garden in London.

Construction costs could be minimized by simply dismantling and removing the existing city hall and office infill. Additional balcony space could be constructed later in response to practical experience and market demand.

When we presented this marketplace idea to council last summer, we called it “the Commons.” Upon reconsideration, however, we now prefer that the project be identified as “The Armory,” a historic name by which the structure was likely known when first built, and a name which still appears on its federal landmark plaque at its Galena Street entry.

This Armory marketplace idea must be initiated immediately before the city reserves the building for office functions only, thereby preempting this more beneficial alternative. We ask Aspen citizens and friends who agree with this proposal to contact us at our addresses below, as well as City Council and the media so we might engage in a civic exchange of ideas and opinions. This is a chance to add another vibrant “identity asset” to Aspen’s downtown.

Susan Welsch (


Richard Tseng-yu Lai (

Aspen and Los Alamos, New Mexico