Opinion: Old Armory could be festive town center | AspenTimes.com

Opinion: Old Armory could be festive town center

Richard Lai, Susan Welsch and Susan Shapiro
Guest Commentary
Aspen City Council will decide how to remodel the former City Hall, or armory building, downtown.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

While housing, traffic, climate change, environmental preservation and economic development are pressing concerns for voters, a number of citizens have over the years urged city leadership to restore the landmark Aspen Armory — perhaps better known as Aspen’s old City Hall — to its original 19th century use as a multi-functional town center.

The opportunity presented here is to act affirmatively to enhance with imagination and creativity the long-term quality of life and economic vitality of our Aspen community.

The Armory was built during the winter of 1892 at the peak of Colorado’s silver-mining era as a gathering place for the Aspen community — one that bustled and rocked with dances, concerts, dinners, and later, even basketball games and roller skating.

In the 1950s, however, the Armory became city offices and our City Hall. We ask that the City Council consider the restoration of the Armory as a place of gaiety and community activity.

Inspired by Aspen’s highly successful summertime Saturday Market — or at a larger scale, London’s indoor Covent Garden — this indoor “Armory Marketplace” could become the most vibrant and colorful venue in Aspen, operating daytime and evenings throughout the year.

Just imagine kiosks offering baked delicacies, artists’ creations, Western Slope produce, locally produced fashion wear and adornments, live music, entertainment, as well as ample room for just sitting, snacking, and gatherings with friends — all at affordable prices to citizens and visitors alike.

By making available low-cost Armory kiosk space to vendors, the marketplace would serve as an incubator to encourage and assist local entrepreneurs aspiring to initiate their own businesses.

And to expose young people in particular to the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship, the marketplace would invite students from grade school through university, and whether local or visitor, to exhibit their talents and products at a prominent kiosk leased at special token student rates.

Our design idea would be to open up the great hall to its original spatial grandeur, while retaining the aged red-brick walls and skylights.

Funding sources identified for this Armory proposal include the Historic Preservation Fund )administered by the U.S. National Park Service, as well as services offered by the Colorado Historic Preservation Office.

In addition, citizens could contribute to the restoration of this historic landmark to make the Armory into the most exciting and community-created destination in downtown Aspen.

As the council knows from city surveys conducted over the past couple of years, having a central indoor place where people can find low-cost items for purchase and enjoy fun events is a priority to all of us locals.

Let’s do more than talk about it! Join us to restore our Armory!

The authors: Richard Lai, rtylai@yahoo.com, 757-730-3115; Susan Welsch, welsch@rof.net 970-948-8003; and Susan Shapiro, swsaspen@gmail.com, 970-948-5140.