Blumenthal: Questioning motives behind discovery center
Last week, the town commenced the preliminary-plan review of Related’s detailed and comprehensive application for a major amendment of many Base Village approvals that were granted in 2004. Their proposed amendments when finally picked apart, negotiated and agreed upon should set the stage to recommence Base Village construction next spring, which hopefully will lead to the expeditious completion of the project.
That being said, Related’s well-rehearsed dog and pony show in front of the Town Council and Planning Commission was a bit of a shock in its total lack of detail concerning most of the significant changes they’re proposing.
The intended purpose of the meeting was to give the applicant an opportunity to describe the entire package of changes they’re proposing and to answer any clarifying questions posed by the Town Council and the Planning Commission. Related, however, chose to use this forum to sell just a couple of items in the application. Albeit important and significant items, it was more akin to being on the receiving end of Slick Willie’s new car sales pitch. This kind of approach leads me to believe there may be a hidden agenda behind Related’s recent community-purpose proposal motivated more by accumulating a bigger pile of cash than serving the best interests of our resort community.
The primary focus of their lengthy presentation was their community-purpose obligations, and they spent most of their time selling the hell out of their recent proposal to dedicate a significant portion of Building 6, a previously approved residential and commercial building, to the town to serve as the permanent home for an ice-age discovery center. However, Related’s generosity stops with construction of the building’s shell. It will be up to Snowmass Discovery to raise the funds to finish out its interior as well as raise a multimillion dollar endowment to fund its operations.
Unfortunately due to the limited square footage being offered by Related, there’s only enough space for a limited number of exhibits and very constrained areas for adjunct amenities such as audio/visual presentations, educational programming and observable working lab facilities. Clearly there’s no space for a compatible year-round multi-use community performing arts center for film, theater, dance and music presentations or any ability to accommodate the Aspen Science Center, which has indicated interest in relocating to Snowmass Village.
For some unexplained reason, Related never discussed its previously offered cash alternative, which is still included in their application. As an alternative to Building 6, Related is offering to give the town $4.5 million in lieu of building the previously approved community aqua center, which the town could use as seed money to construct a multipurpose community facility on town-owned land outside Base Village.
Although the Town Council never fixed on the exact sum of cash that would be acceptable, many feel the $4.5 million proffered by Related during sketch-plan review was a good beginning to a negotiation that will occur during the current stage of review. The final sum could total as much as $7 million based on the outcome of land-value negotiations concerning the property where the aqua center was to be built and the projected cost of construction.
The skeptic in me thinks Related’s sudden and pronounced interest in dedicating Building 6 to the town may have more to do with the potential dollar signs dancing around in their and their partners’ heads resulting from the relocation of the residential units originally planned and approved for Building 6 to Buildings 7 and 8, which would allow them to market and sell more high-end residential units with better views and access while unfortunately for us further increasing the height and mass of those already large and massive entryway buildings.
In my opinion the most beneficial choice for the town is to maximize Related’s cash offer and look to the town-owned Point Site, adjacent to Town Hall, as the civic core of our community serving as a multipurpose cultural, educational and entertainment center for all the desired and much-needed resort and community amenities that don’t exist in our fair village.
At the urging of various concerned Snowmass citizens, Jim Gustafson and his team at Z-Group Architects have conceptualized an iconic cultural campus on the Point Site that would comfortably and compatibly accommodate the Snowmass Discovery center and all its adjunct programming needs as well as a multi-purpose performing arts facility and the Aspen Science Center. In addition they’ve conceptualized a very attractive and functional pedestrian bridge over Brush Creek Road connecting Base Village and the Point Site via a short two-minute walk with magnificent views of Mount Daly and downvalley.
Another compelling aspect of this concept is that by including a broader base of uses and users, the challenge of raising the additional construction funds and operating endowments becomes an achievable goal, whereas the discovery center on its own separate fundraising mission may be problematic at best.
Our decision makers as well as all other interested members of our community should take a look at Gus’ conceptual drawings in the near future and consider the compelling rationale for this much more appealing and functional alternative than the very limited uses offered by Building 6.
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