Aspen seeks to increase foot traffic
no photoASPEN – Unmanageable traffic into and out of Aspen has dogged the city for decades, but there are places where city officials would like to see traffic increase. Galena Plaza, atop the Rio Grande parking garage, and the surrounding areas are considered dead spaces, and the city is looking for ways to encourage pedestrian traffic there.At a meeting last week, the town’s planning and zoning commission approved a Civic Master Plan that outlines the best potential uses for the plaza and the former Youth Center, as well as the parking lots adjacent to the garage, the Zupancis property on Main Street next to the County Plaza Building, and the Wheeler Parcel, adjacent to the Wheeler Opera House. The plan now goes to City Council for final approval.But the commission did add some caveats to the plan’s language, specifically to give office space lower priority as a potential use in the former Youth Center.The plan devotes much talk to finding ways to get more pedestrian traffic into Galena Plaza, which it calls a “failed public space.” One way to do that, it proposes, is to encourage uses around the park that attract people. In the proposed Civic Master Plan, the planning group recommends that the city work with the county to “evaluate the scope of potential civic uses in the downtown area, including but not limited to the Zupancis property and the former Youth Center.” Offices and meeting rooms qualify as civic uses.The plan does not limit uses to civic uses. It recommends the building could house “a range of civic and/or cultural uses.” Although the plan is meant to be a guiding document only, suggesting possible uses, the commission and members of the public were concerned some people might interpret it as an entitlement to use those areas for anything listed in the plan. Commissioner Jasmine Tygre, the lone dissenter in approving the plan, asked the commission to consider what types of applicants would approach the city following adoption of the plan. She said the loose language in the document would unquestionably be interpreted as an entitlement. Further confounding the issue is the impression, to some, that the city and county have already slated the former Youth Center for office and meeting space. City planner Ben Gagnon, who has been working with the Civic Master Plan Advisory Group, flatly denied that and said that is just one of several possible uses outlined in the plan. But in January, a county analysis identified the building as a “potential county building site,” and the Civic Master Plan mentions the analysis specifically.The building also currently houses a number of city employees. The top floor is used for government meetings, and although the room is also available for public use, few groups seem to be aware of that fact.That doesn’t mean that spaces like the meeting room or the outdoor plaza aren’t suitable for events – just that people don’t seem to be flocking to them.Kent Reed, who founded the group that eventually became Theatre Aspen, attended Tuesday’s meeting. He told commissioners the plaza and the former Youth Center are ideal for poetry and play readings, small one-act plays and rehearsals, but “people haven’t stepped up or are not aware of its possibilities.”Reed’s current theater troupe, the Hudson Reed Ensemble, used Galena Plaza this summer to stage several scenes from Shakespeare’s romances. “I think the trouble with Galena Plaza is imagination is not used,” said Reed.For Sue Smedsted, the notion that people overlook the plaza area, especially the neighboring Youth Center building, is confounding. Smedsted has been involved with the Youth Center since it was opened near Galena Plaza, and she has been part of the plan’s advisory group since it began nearly seven years ago. “I’m amazed that people find it difficult finding that location because we rented it out,” she said. “We had everyone under the sun there since our inception.”Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado CO
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