Aspen government prepares to build new office building

The city of Aspen is mobilizing in the next couple of weeks to begin construction on a new 37,500-square-foot office building at Rio Grande Place.

Preconstruction work will begin in February; there will be a groundbreaking Feb. 8.

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By April, the road in front of the project, Rio Grande Place, will be closed from Mill Street to the parking garage entrance.

“It will be a full-on construction site,” Aspen’s capital asset director Jeff Pendaryis said last week.

He added that the road will be closed until mid-June when the Aspen Food & Wine Classic kicks off.

The parking lot in front of the garage and Community Banks of Colorado also will be closed, except for about a half-dozen spaces reserved for bank customers.

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Although details have not been finalized, there could be just one entrance to the garage — on Mill Street — and one exit — from the Rio Grande level — where cars would turn east onto the road.

Taster’s Pizza, which is on a month-to-month lease, will stay open at least through the ski season, Pendarvis said.

It hasn’t been determined if the popular restaurant for locals and kids will remain open this summer.

Stacy Forster, owner of Taster’s, said if it’s possible, he’ll stay open, especially if kids can access the skate park across the street.

“We’ll stay open as long as we can,” he said. “We’ll see.”

A majority of voters signed off on new city offices in last fall’s election after over a year of legal wrangling with citizens, who sued the city asking for a referendum vote on Aspen City Council’s 2017 approval of the building.

As part of a settlement agreement between the two parties, council agreed to put the Rio Grande project on the November 2018 ballot, along with another development choice.

Voters ultimately upheld the city’s original plan to redevelop the office space formerly occupied by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association at the Rio Grande Parking Garage, along with an adjacent building housing Taster’s and the city’s Parking Department.

Jack Wheeler, who since 2017 oversaw the design, square footage, programming for the space, cost estimates and myriad other details for the city’s project in his role as capital asset director, is now acting as an owner’s representative for the municipal government in a consulting capacity.

Wheeler informed Pendarvis in October that he was leaving his city job to establish a consulting firm for construction projects.

He had not envisioned working for the city in that capacity so quickly, but was tapped by Pendarvis to replace Denver-based consultants NV5.

Pendarvis confirmed with City Attorney Jim True that replacing an outside firm with Wheeler was legal, ethical and within contractual obligations.

“We pursued him because of his knowledge of the project and the community,” Pendarvis said via email Tuesday. “His value to the project is something we wouldn’t get from other consultants. … He brings that institutional knowledge.”

The cost for consulting services is estimated to be about $200,000, which had been previously budgeted for NV5’s work.

“It’s a two-year project that requires a lot of work,” Wheeler said Wednesday.

It is expected that Wheeler’s contract will be on the consent calendar for council’s Feb. 11 meeting, which will include services through the construction phase of the project.

Since 2009, the city has used third-party consultants for its own construction projects as part of a checks-and-balances system.

Driving the project is the need for the city to provide more space for its employees and for the public.

The government currently rents several spaces throughout town to house various departments, which costs about $500,000 annually.

The current City Hall, which will be renovated as part of the overall $46 million plan, has become too small to house all of the government’s operations.

“Consolidating offices will save the taxpayers money over the longterm as the organization will no longer need to lease commercial free-market properties around town,” Pendarvis said in his Tuesday email. “Having the majority of city employees in the downtown core close together will enhance working relationships and foster improved communication between departments.”

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