Lum: Keep city hall city hall
I was surprised to hear that in November we will be able to vote against moving city offices out of City Hall. Sort of. Actually, it’s only an advisory vote, but we can make it loud and clear.
There lingers the perception that the people who were behind Referendum 1 and who are against the size (and duplicity — it isn’t really affordable after all) of Base2 are only a very vocal minority who do not reflect the attitudes of the citizenry in general.
Still, the City Council wisely decided to get a public reading on the City Hall (Armory building) proposal before sinking more than a million dollars into the design plans for the mega government building they hope to build on the Rio Grande property.
The building the City Council approved (Bert Myrin dissenting) is 51,900 square feet to accommodate all the city offices now located in City Hall and those scattered about town and will be centrally located on the Rio Grande property.
The alternative would be to keep city offices in the 20,000-square-foot Armory building and build a smaller, 32,000-square-foot new building. That’s still big but more than a third smaller than the one proposed.
Make no mistake, something is going to be built on the Rio Grande land. The city has squirreled away the money and doesn’t have to ask for a vote. It doesn’t have to ask for this vote, either, and doesn’t legally have to pay any attention to the results.
As for what we’re actually voting for, that’s a bit muddy. The question boils down to a preference between city offices or community/public use for the Armory building. Pick one.
A committee already has been formed and a marketing agency hired (I don’t know by whom) to investigate possible community/public uses for City Hall. The details are sparse, but there has been mention of turning the second and third floors into one big room where we all can have fun.
I’m sure we’ll be educated soon as to where the money will come from for this project and will become privy to more details, but the fact of the matter is that our track record in the public-amenities department is sadly lacking.
For instance, the city gave away the beautiful old art museum by the river to a local brewery. There’s a thought. We can always use another brewery.
To me, it’s an easy question. Why would we build 20,000 square feet of new bureaucratic space when we don’t even need it? If the city builds the new 51,900-square-foot City Hall, there will be 20,000 square feet left over. A committee has been convened to try to think up things to do with that extra space (the abandoned Armory/City Hall building) when the thing to do with it is keep using it — in all of its funky charm — for city-government offices.
The false premise behind the entire plan is that it is vitally important to have all of the city departments under one roof. People hear that and think, “Oh yes, now everybody can do all of their business in one place,” but the majority of Aspen residents never have occasion to set foot in City Hall unless they’re trying to save the cost of a stamp by paying their utility bills there.
All the development departments could go into the 31,900-square-foot new building (if they don’t fit, it’s time for some cuts), and the rest could reside in City Hall. God forbid a staff member might have to hike to the new Rio Grande property — it’s right across the street. It’s not as if City Hall is in Queens and the new building is in Manhattan.
Meanwhile, the county has big bureaucratic building plans of its own. I think it’s waiting to see how things shake out with the city before jumping out from behind the curtain crying, “Surprise!”
You’d think in a county this size the two entities could get it together. Har. Just kidding.
Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks we’re just begging for another recession. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at email@example.com.
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