Letter: A community center in downtown Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Letter: A community center in downtown Aspen

A few of us locals have been working on the possibility of returning the current City Hall (originally known as Armory Hall) to its historic use a community center. Armory Hall served as a community gathering space from 1892 to 1957 and could become such a vibrant space again.

The Aspen City Council voted in August to move offices from the current City Hall to a new, sustainable building at Galena Plaza. The council found this option would save taxpayers $3 million as compared with remaining in and renovating the current City Hall and also building a new, smaller building on Galena Plaza. The council also has placed an advisory question on November’s ballot asking voters which use they prefer for Armory Hall: “community use” or “city offices.”

The city’s need for new office space stems from the fact that it is losing several leased locations that now house public services for six departments. The new offices call for only a modest 3,300 square feet more than the current city office space, and all the space would be owned by the city, not leased.

Su Lum wrote in her Sept. 23 column that a committee has been formed (that is the group with whom I am associated) to investigate public uses for City Hall but that “the details are sparse” (“Keep city hall city hall,” Commentary, The Aspen Times). While necessarily sparse at the conceptual stage, our committee’s concept for a community center includes many details for this early stage of the process.

Here are the facts concerning a community center:

• 19,000 square feet of affordable, inclusive community meeting and event space.

• Possible uses — concerts, theatrical performances, lectures, political gatherings, community dances, fundraisers, a winter farmers market, roller skating, local club meetings, game nights, senior and kids’ activities and more as the imagination allows.

• The second and third floors would be combined into a large space, returning the building to its historic design.

• The basement and first floor would include flexible meeting space.

• An addition would restore an original area of the building and could house the Aspen Visitors Center and/or Aspen Chamber Resort Association offices.

• Local resident Bruce Etkin has committed to donate as much as $100,000 for organizational needs and financial analysis.

• If the city approves the concept, after financial analysis a nonprofit would be formed to raise funds for needed renovations to the building, removing financial responsibility from taxpayers.

• The nonprofit would seek foundation and government historic grants, as well as donations, in order to fund both the building’s rehabilitation as well as create an endowment for future operations.

• The Wheeler board has advised conceptual agreement to assuming management of the facility, if desired.

We think Su’s column lacked the above facts and an understanding of the proposal. Hopefully, this will make the intent more clear.

James DeFrancia