Letter: Give democracy a chance

To the Aspen City Council:

On behalf of the 1,403 voters who chose community uses over office space for the historic Armory building that now serves as City hall, I am asking that the council honor the vote and the commitment to allow me to present a thorough proposal for restoring the Armory to community uses.

Last summer, we pledged $100,000 to explore the possible uses and user groups that could transform the Armory into a community hall that would serve a wide range of users. The council placed the following question on the ballot:

“Ballot Question 2B: Use of the Aspen Armory Site (City Hall)

“Which use of the Aspen Armory site (currently City Hall) do you prefer for a long range, 50 year plan?

“ • Community use

“ • City offices”

The vote was 1,403 in favor of community use to 1,317 for city offices. This and previous councils have honored advisory votes ending the hydropower project, terminating rail studies and implementing paid parking. Given that we invested the time to conduct a campaign and persuade the voters, I feel the council should honor its tradition and promises and allow us to develop and present a community-use alternative.

I personally believe that the evidence is clear that creating a new building for city offices is a cheaper and more efficient alternative than playing “musical buildings” for many years and scattering offices in basements around town. The fiscal analysis is complex. However, the council should not make a final decision on office space before considering a fully researched community-use proposal.

Aspen has many, many user groups, ranging from the science center and arts groups to local performers and nonprofits that could share the space, effectively drawing on and combining the proposals made for the Power House. The Armory would create a walkable downtown amenity that would add vibrancy during the day and at night in a way that office buildings cannot.

Refurbishing the Armory for a fraction of city office needs would be expensive. I am personally committed to soliciting private donations to help pay for remodeling the Armory for community use. This is in addition to the $100,000 I have already pledged to create an inventory of potential uses and user groups and preliminary drawings.

As you know, the vacant land next to the Wheeler Opera House has been considered for an expansion for smaller gatherings that don’t warrant use of the 500-seat main theater space but nonetheless could contribute to our vitality. Cost estimates on that expansion have ranged well above $20 million.

I hope the council will honor the vote and give democracy a chance by allowing, at the very least, a thorough study of the exciting possibilities offered by restoring the Armory to shared community uses.

Bruce Etkin