Art museum opponents threaten council with recall

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenSeptember 29, 2010
There is an effort mounting to recall members of Aspen City Council who approved a lawsuit settlement that will bring a new 30,000-square-foot art museum to the current Wienerstube site.

A view of the proposed design.

Aspen Art Museum

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said he has it on good authority that recall papers have been picked up by art museum opponents Richard Cohen and Marty Flug's lawyer. Mayor Ireland, Councilmen Torre, Dwayne Romero and Derek Johnson all voted to approve a settlement with Nikos Hecht's 633 Spring Street II LLC after the developers sued the city for the council's denial in 2008 of their near 50,000 square-foot proposal. The settlement centers around moving the Aspen Art Museum, currently down near Rio Grande Park, into a new building in the downtown core.

“I believe recall is an inappropriate tool for resolving a disagreement over a policy decision to settle a lawsuit,” Ireland told Real Aspen on Wednesday evening. “The decision was made after a public hearing and in light of the interests of the community in having a smaller development than would have been permitted under the present and former land use code.”

The new art museum proposal is an “environmentally sustainable” design by accomplished Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. It would be his first museum in the United States. Featuring wood and glass, the three-story building would have 10,000 square feet below grade and 20,000 square feet above grade. It would also feature 12,500 square feet of exhibition space, a classroom, cafe, bookstore, shop and an exterior roof deck sculpture garden.

Proponents of the art museum emphasize the building would be open to the public and provide an invaluable community asset that would further bolster Aspen's international reputation for arts and the good life.

But even though it is smaller than the proposal for a new building at the Weinerstube that city council shot down in 2008, many in the community are vehemently opposed to it for one reason or another.

A view from Spring Street looking south.

Aspen Art Museum

“I invited several of [the museum's opponents] to my house to discuss this matter and heard many objections to the art displays, staff, museum board and style of architecture,” Ireland said. “However, none of these are considerations in settling lawsuits granting approvals. I believe Mr. Cohen told me his office is across the street in Marty Flug's building and that he objects to having his views of the mountain impaired.”

A phone message left for Cohen on Wednesday evening was not immediately returned.

Ireland was unsure how much progress the so-called "Saving Aspen's Character" recall effort had made.

“I don't believe signatures have been collected but I do not know,” said Ireland, who survived three recall attempts when he was a Pitkin County commissioner.

“None of the recall agents had the courtesy to inform any of us of this development,” the mayor added.

If a recall were to move forward based on who voted for the lawsuit settlement, only Councilman Steve Skadron would be spared. He didn't vote for it. But for a recall to proceed, a lot of signatures must be collected and a special election would have to be held for voters to decide whether to retain Ireland, Torre, Romero and Johnson.


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