JAS eyes different venue for new performance center

Rick Carroll | The Aspen Times

Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ purchase of the downtown Wheeler Square Building has fallen through, but the nonprofit’s executive director said Wednesday another location is being eyed for use.

The deal was called off Friday, coming after JAS’ announcement in March that it had embarked on a five-year capital campaign to raise $25 million — of which $15 million would be used to buy and remodel the East Hyman Avenue building.

“It’s not under contract,” Mary Lynn Casper, whose family owns the 9,549 square feet of the condominium building JAS had been poised to purchase, said Wednesday. “We’re very happy to be back in our business.”

JAS would have acquired the building that includes Aspen Billiards, Eric’s Bar, Su Casa, The Cigar Bar and the former space that was the Hub of Aspen bicycle shop. Cost of the purchase was set at $11.5 million, Casper said.

JAS will continue its fundraising campaign and is close to making a play on another Aspen building that would be used for the same purpose the Wheeler Square Building was intended for — a live-performance and music-education venue called the JAS Center.

“Something else has come up that we’re looking at very diligently,” said JAS executive director Jim Horowitz, noting an announcement could come next week.

An Aspen City Council work session, scheduled for Tuesday, makes note that one of the items up for discussion is about the JAS Center. City Clerk Linda Manning referred questions about the meeting to Assistant City Manager Sara Ott, who could not be immediately reached. Horowitz declined comment about the work session’s objective.

A closing date on the Wheeler Square Building had originally been set at the end of May. Two weeks ago, both Casper and Horowitz declined to comment about the status of the deal, only saying that closing date had been extended.

Casper declined to comment about why the deal collapsed.

“There was an amend-and-extend deadline on Friday, which we did not do,” she said.

The building will go back on the market at a future date, Casper said.

Horowitz also was hesitant to delve into specifics, but said there was unexpected “pushback” from neighbors, as well as issues with the would-be venue’s stage and sounds.

The multi-purpose, multi-level venue would have served as a home for JAS students and teachers to practice and study, as well as the place for live entertainment much like the JAS Cafe performances, which over the years has featured internationally known jazz artists at The Little Nell, the Cooking School of Aspen and the Aspen Art Museum.

Horowitz previously said he envisioned the new venue as a “mini arts and education district” on Hyman Avenue, with the Aspen Art Museum serving as the opposite bookend three blocks to the east.

JAS’ June Experience concerts are scheduled June 21 to 30 in Aspen, Leslie Odom Jr. and Lyle Lovett and His Large Band headlining the June 22 and 23 shows, respectively, at the Benedict Music Tent.

The JAS Labor Day Experience, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 at Snowmass Town Park, will include performances by Lionel Richie, Jack Johnson, Zac Brown Band and Michael Franti and Spearhead.