Vagneur: The need for an in-town community center is real

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Roger Marolt and I don’t usually mention each other by name in our columns unless we’re having a shootout in the local rag, but last Friday seemed to be the exception, although not without a bit of Marolt’s under-the-radar, acerbic wit. In his brilliantly reasoned expose of why Armory Hall should be returned to the community center it was before the town government moved in and left a gap in the organizational roots of many local organizations, he actually referenced me by name.

I accuse Marolt of using “acerbic wit” because there seemed to be an implication in his wording that perhaps I was older than him (did he really infer “old”?) by enough to actually remember when the local high school team played basketball there or the fact that I used to roller skate on that same floor with Naomi Just, one of my early Aspen loves. Well, he’s right, I do remember those things, but let me assure you, I don’t hold his lack of Armory Hall memories against him.

Some people likely have the notion that it was a predictably quaint idea of the city to move into the Armory, a conscious attempt at being part of the “messiness” we so strongly revere and say we miss today. There’s not much truth to that concept, and if the truth be known, it was the cheapest option the then-cash-strapped city could come up with. There wasn’t a long-term strategy to make the place home — it was more like coming in out of the rain and forgetting to go out again.

That’s why it’s such a convoluted hodgepodge of rabbit warrens, hallways going off in all directions, claustrophobic offices tucked behind doors that seemingly lead nowhere and floors that move and creak with each step one takes. Instead of biting the bullet years ago and building some decent offices, the city just added more workplaces as needed, raised or lowered floors to suit circumstances and blundered onward, renting outside space when needed.

The irony is that the last time I checked, the code-wise Planning and Zoning Commission was on the top floor of the whole heap — trying to set a good example but incongruously out of place in the cobbled-together and shaky maze of offices and hallways.

Without realizing it, we’ve been inadvertently exporting Aspen’s vitality out of town for years. Whip Jones and Had Deane started it with that crazy ski area along Maroon Creek, and before we could absorb that, a very generous gift of land from Jimmy Moore gave the school district tons of room to expand — we don’t have a public school kid left in the town of Aspen — you’d have thought we’d have at least kept the elementary school close by, just for the vitality those kids project. This is in the same neighborhood as the Aspen Recreation Center. We talk Canary Initiative a lot, but it seems like every time we turn around, we give people another reason to jump in their cars.

The need for an in-town community center has reached the critical point, especially for permanent residents of Aspen. The people who get the work done and live here year-round (and give the town so much of its vigor) seem to have been left out of the equation — they are forced to travel out of town for many activities that could be held at a community center. Not everybody likes riding a bike in a snowstorm or walking in the rain.

Talk to people from the local theatrical production groups or the Aspen Historical Society and you’ll find that they have enormous scheduling problems, a never-ending search for venues in which to present the many interesting programs they put on over the course of a year. Local musicians and other creative people have an uphill battle finding spaces to display their talents. Always juggling performances to fit space available is not exactly a pleasant way to conduct your affairs. A community center would not only help alleviate such problems for local groups, but would provide space for a hundred other ideas in the big A-town.

It’s hard to envision the many activities that might be held in the Armory Hall, but some that come to mind (at the risk of sounding tautological) are game nights, local concerts, dances, club meetings, plays, theatrical productions, activities for seniors and children, special events and who knows what else, but it’s time to think big. And most people could walk to such events.

The time to tear out the strange, wobbly and cobbled-together guts of the building and replace them with a state-of-the-art, nonprofit, non-government-funded Aspen community center is here. As Marolt said, vote for “community use” on ballot question 2B.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at