Aspen City Council would like the seat of local government to sit in the newly built offices under construction on Galena Plaza. The decision, made in a work session Tuesday night, is a reversal from the previous council’s majority position that council chambers needed to stay within the historic armory building on the other side of Main Street that has served as city hall for decades.
Mayor Torre was the lone standout in his stance that the new building should be exclusively offices, and that city council chambers should remain in the armory.
“I’m going to support council chambers staying in this building. I just haven’t (seen) a better plan over there. It just is not apparent to me,” Torre said.
Council was presented with two programming options from design firm Charles Cunniffe Architects. Each showed where potential city departments could go throughout the new building, the reconstruction of the Rio Grande building, also on Galena Plaza, and a remodeled armory.
Cunniffe told the council that the council chambers, and the location of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s offices, were the two anchor points that all other decision making hinged on.
“Once we establish those anchor points then we can work around them to develop the location of the other departments,” Cunniffe said.
Ideally, the city manager’s office and the attorney's office are nearby council chambers. And ACRA, as an outside organization, should not have direct access to government offices outside of business hours.
“Option 2” presented moving city council chambers to the new building and placing ACRA, its offices and a visitors’ center in the ground floor of the armory.
Torre took issue with the traffic that a visitors’ center would bring into the middle of town.
“I think that an ACRA welcome office down by the parking garage with that easy access of Rio Grande Place… is probably a better fit,” Torre said.
Torre’s predecessor, Steve Skadron, was a strong supporter of keeping council chambers in the armory, even after the public voted that they wanted to use it as a community building in a 2015 advisory election. The remaining council members all spoke of honoring that advisory vote during the work session Tuesday night.
Torre said the ballot language was misleading, because it did not make it clear that in order for the armory to be a community space, it would mean developing a building at Galena Plaza big enough to hold all city offices, also known as the “one-roof” solution.
“I understand the vision that you guys are sharing for more of a one-roof solution, but I think that that ship has sailed and sailed a long time ago,” he said.
Council member Ann Mullins, the only representative still serving from the council that presided over that vote, defended the ballot language. But she also said she was against the council decision at the time to adopt a “two-roof” solution that maintained the armory for government use.
“I get really irritated when people who disagree with the outcome then go back and say the ballot language was no good,” Mullins said. “The outcome supported what council had already decided and for whatever reason Steve Skadron decided to change what had been decided.”
At the time, Skadron spoke about city hall needing to stay at the armory for the historic sentiment. On Tuesday, Mullins pointed out that the armory had only served as city offices since the 1950s. Previously, the 1890s structure had been a community building, and, as its name implies, a military stock hold.
“I’m sorry there isn’t a real good argument that this is the traditional city hall, because it isn’t,” Mullins said.
The other three council members also all agreed that the better of the two options presented was to move council chambers into the new building, and ACRA into the armory. Under that direction, the city manager, clerk, finance, and parking departments would all fill out the middle floor of the new building. The attorney's office would be on the top floor, directly on Galena plaza, along with council chambers. The community development and engineering departments, some of the most trafficked by the public, would be on the ground floor near the parking garage.
A restaurant space would remain in the connecting Rio Grande building where Taster’s Pizza was until last month. Above that would be human resources and environmental health.
The bottom level of the armory would become a flexible meeting space. Above ACRA would be the housing and transportation departments, with special events and capital asset offices on the top floor.
The decision to move council chambers expedites an already decade-long process. Previously, council was going to have to move into the new building temporarily while the armory was under construction, and then move back. With the new direction, they will get settled as soon as the new offices are built.