May 26, 2014

Petition circling for multi-purpose public building

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A Smuggler Park resident has gathered “several hundred signatures” on a petition that asks Aspen City Council to consider a multi-purpose community center as the best use for the soon-to-be-vacated Aspen Art Museum building.

Aimee Sheeber, a 25-year local resident and business owner, said conversion of the building could satisfy a need for reasonably priced community space that may host everything from book clubs to sewing circles, square dancing nights and jewelry-making classes, to name just a handful of uses.

“This would be a local jewel where people could go to express themselves,” said Sheeber.

Populating the 7,200-square-foot, two-story building with interesting classes taught by locals is one aspect of Sheeber’s plan, as is creating an outpost for “people in my neighborhood that are lonely and need a place of community.”

The petition is expected to be shared with elected officials when City Council takes up discussion of what has been rebranded as the “Old Power House Building” during a June 3 work session beginning at 4 p.m.

Determining what is the best use for this structure and the land where the old Mountain Rescue cabin sits on Main Street are among the city’s top-10 goals for 2014, according to Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s community relations director.

According to archivist Anna Scott of the Aspen Historical Society, the Old Power House was originally constructed in 1886 by the Consumer’s Light and Power Co. After merging with the Castle Creek Power Co. in 1887, it became the Roaring Fork Electric Light and Power Co., which was run by DRC Brown, Sr.

It operated for nearly a century as a power plant, Scott said. The building was remodeled and reopened as the Aspen Art Museum in 1979 where the nonprofit organization will continue to operate until its new facility on Hyman Avenue is completed.

City staff has been soliciting ideas for almost a year about the building, which sits on 118,000 square feet of land along the banks of the Roaring Fork River just off of Mill Street.

In an online forum, 83 people shared their concepts, which included room for visual and performing arts, a children’s science center and a place for start-up businesses to have a home. Residents tossed out ideas during two January work sessions and City Council reviewed some options in an April 8 work session.

The Aspen Science Center, a nonprofit that promotes interest in science, engineering and math through various community programs, has announced its desire to make the space its permanent home and exhibition area. An online petition on its website in support of leasing the space shows 106 signers.

Throughout the process for determining future use of the space, council members have said they don’t want to see the building used for commercial, private or office space, but rather a place where “memory-making,” rather than money-making, could take place. The Aspen Art Museum currently pays the city $1 per year to lease the property.

It was during the April 8 work session that council members stated that while they didn’t want the city to be an applicant for a community center, others are free to suggest whatever ideas they might have.

In further clarifying their intention of creating a “wow” factor in this space, council member Dwayne Romero said it should offer people a “compelling reason” to visit Aspen.

Council member Ann Mullins said use of the building should include “the whole package of beauty, architecture and history” of Aspen while Adam Frisch emphasized that it should bring something new that’s not already available to the community.

Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron wants to see something that may “defy convention,” while council member Art Daily favors a facility that’s “imaginative, multi-faceted, something where people walk out and say, ‘look what Aspen is doing.’”

What all council members agreed upon is they’d like a self-sufficient organization to take charge so the city does not have to pay for future operations.

The building won’t be used for a police station or for temporary city offices, said Scott Miller, the city’s capital asset director, who is working on the municipal government’s facilities master plan. Those options are “off the table” due to strong community sentiment, he said.

Sheeber emphasized that her concept of a multi-purpose community center has been especially well received in the Hunter Creek-Smuggler-Centennial neighborhoods, whose residents could access it on foot.

“This space is beautiful and ideal because it’s centrally located to a high concentration of locals,” she said.

Aspen’s Charles Cunniffe Architecture, in concert with RNL Architecture of Denver, has been awarded the contract for exterior renovation of the historic building, Miller said. Interior modifications will have to wait until usage is determined.

A decision by the city on who will inhabit the museum is anticipated by September. Miller said a request for proposals or qualifications could follow after that time.

Aspen Journalism collaborated with the Aspen Daily News on this story. The News published the story on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

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