Stone: Aspen and natural disasters (is greed a natural disaster?)
November 11, 2015
Aspen is blessedly free from natural disasters. We don't have hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or violent earthquakes.
Our local disasters are man-made. We've been warned that climate change will wipe out most of the aspen trees in the short term and maybe skiing itself in the long term. If there's ever a major flood in the valley, it'll be because Ruedi dam bursts.
And if downtown Aspen is ever destroyed, it will be the result of heedless development.
Of course, heedless development is the result of greed. And greed is part of the natural human condition. So I guess we're back to Aspen being threatened by natural disasters.
Which brings us to Superstorm Marky Mark.
(Yes, I'm still writing about Mark Hunt. Yes, I really wish I could stop. And yes, damn it, I'll stop "picking on" Hunt when he stops picking on Aspen.)
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We're deep into the "superstorm" category because, even as some are celebrating a victory of sorts in the Base2 election, we learn that three more Hunt projects were reviewed by the City Council this week — tornadoes spun off from the main storm and touching down in the center of town.
And while it is tempting to simply condemn all three as more spawn of the same devil, that would be both unfair and very foolish.
Marky Mark and his faceless backup band, the Funky Bunch (seriously, look it up — Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, with hit lyrics that included "Forget love and all that crap/I'm just tryin' to keep my pockets fat"), own a big chunk of downtown, and while they may not get to do whatever they want, they will most certainly get to do a lot.
They cannot be dismissed and they cannot be ignored.
And, trying to be fair, I have to say that the three projects now under review deserve very different responses.
One involves demolishing and replacing a thoroughly undistinguished building on south side of the Cooper Avenue mall — a building so anonymously negligible that the only way anyone seems able to refer to it is "the salmon-colored building."
Yes, the proposed building is 6 feet taller than the existing building. Yes, it will block the view — a little. Yes, it will cast a slightly larger shadow.
But it meets the zoning code, and it replaces a building that has long been either ignored or reviled. (Yes, reviled. As I recall — if someone wants to correct me, please do — back in the 1970s, some vandal or public-spirited resident splashed red paint on that building and maybe even spray-painted "Ugly" on the facade.)
So the only real question should be whether the proposed replacement is ridiculously unattractive and out of place. If it's handsome or even as anonymous as Marky Mark's Chicago gang, fine. Go ahead. Call in the bulldozers.
More interesting to me is the project across the street, the Bidwell Building, on the corner of Cooper and Galena.
That building is "historic" — and I use those quotation marks because it's "historic" only in a curious Aspen sense.
Built in the mid-1960s, it is neither notably attractive nor notably ugly. It is "historic" mostly because it was designed by revered Aspen architect Fritz Benedict, a truly wonderful man whom we might best honor by preserving his memory rather than one of his mediocre buildings.
It also is historic, in a sense, because it preserves the memory of a time when putting a "patio" in a deep pit, a full story below ground, seemed like a great idea.
And it is "historic" because it preserves the memory of Bert Bidwell, one of Aspen's nastier characters of bygone decades, who, among other things, was known for hauling out a hose and spraying the dirty hippies who dared to sit on the wall surrounding that below-grade pit of a patio.
So, again, if the new building isn't too ugly, bring in the bulldozers.
OK. So far, so good — or so far, so so-so — but then we get to the third project. And that one shows why we really need to keep a close watch on Marky and the Bunch.
This development is on the corner of Mill and Hyman — directly across from the Wheeler Opera House and right at the edge of Wagner Park.
The plan is to tear down and replace two more thoroughly undistinguished, one-story buildings.
Marky Mark's first proposal was to throw up (pun intended) a new building that would have been a full 28 feet high, blocking views of Aspen Mountain from the opera house, towering over the edge of the park and generally making a mess of that corner.
To be sure, the city was quick to respond with appropriate outrage, and the current plans are scaled way back from that original offense.
But the simple fact that anyone could even consider making that original proposal is why we have to remain ever vigilant against whatever new weasels might be emerging from the burrow.
And it is why we need to keep a close watch on what emerges as a replacement for the defeated hotel project at Main and Monarch.
We all know the threats that were tossed around during the election campaign: It'll be a bank. It'll be a Walgreens. A Tiffany's. A gravel pit. A radioactive-waste-disposal site.
Will Marky Mark carry through with his threats? Will he build the biggest, ugliest building he can get away with just for spite?
Or will he take this second chance, this clean slate, and build something that will be a welcome, appropriate addition to the Main Street landscape?
Will Hunt build something that actually demonstrates the love for Aspen he has been so eager to proclaim?
As they say: Watch this space for further developments!
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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