Carbondale residents tonight will have a chance for public comment as town trustees weigh four potential uses for the old Gordon Cooper Branch Library building at 76 Fourth St.
Carbondale, which owns the land and building, will consider several factors in its decision, including economic benefit, potential to enhance downtown vitality and the project’s ability to succeed without additional town support.
Last year, trustees selected a proposal to use the building as an art center featuring the work of sculpture James Surls, but the project was withdrawn before a lease was signed. This round, they will chose from: a combination art gallery and dance studio; the headquarters for the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce; a “Pay it Forward” community cafe; or a youth hostel.
Trustees could select a project tonight or continue discussion at a future meeting. The item is on the agenda for 8:05 p.m. but could take place earlier.
ART GALLERY / DANCE STUDIO
The Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities would operate a gallery in one half of the building while Carbondale’s Dance Initiative would construct a sprung floor performing arts space in the other. Dividers would allow simultaneous separate activities or open up to provide additional shared space for bigger events.
Dance Initiative submitted an unsuccessful solo proposal in the previous round. “I’ve spent the last year doing pretty much nothing else but looking for space for the performing arts,” founder Peter Gilbert told the trustees. “I don’t really see another spot that can be turned into these multiple studio spaces. If this doesn’t work, I think I have to modify or cancel my dream before it turns into a nightmare.”
Arts council director Amy Kimberly assured the council that the organization intends to retain a space at the Third Street Center but stressed the need for a gallery downtown. “I believe we can have the vibrancy at both places,” she said.
The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce has tried several locations in recent years, with its two employees currently at the Third Street Center. “We are continuing to grow our membership. We would love to grow our staff as well,” executive director Andrea Stewart said.
The chamber also wants a place downtown where it can act as Carbondale’s official greeter. “Main Street is the home run for us,” Stewart said.
“When people aren’t familiar with a community, they want a place where they can go in and pick up literature,” board member Frank Zlogar said.
“THE OTHER SPACE”
This isn’t your average cafe. Trever Brown envisions communal seating, no set menus and no set price. Chefs would be free to experiment, using local ingredients and composting leftovers for the onsite garden. Customers would choose their own portions and, on their way out, pay whatever they want for the service.
“Most restaurants and cafes price out people. This one doesn’t,” Brown explained. “This isn’t a novelty concept. It’s been in use for a few years and it’s actually proven itself in 30 different establishments across the country,” he added. “More often people overpay, rather than underpay.”
Brown acknowledged that the approach has mostly gained traction in urban centers, but didn’t seem daunted by the lack of small-town examples. He has already spoken with several nonprofits that he hopes will help with planning and fundraising. If this space doesn’t work out, he’s willing to start small — maybe even a food truck.
“We want to start here,” he said.
James Breasted recalls paying $56 a month at a rooming house when he arrived in Aspen in a Volkswagen bug with all his belongings in the back.
“You can’t do that anymore,” he observed. “It’s a very expensive place to come and visit.”
Breasted aims to change that by turning the old library space into a hostel. In addition to addressing a need for affordable short-term housing in the valley, he also hopes to fill a gap in the center of the United States. There are only two Hostelling International locations between the Mississippi and the West Coast, although other hostels operate without HI oversight, including one in Glenwood Springs.
“My proposal is very conventional, but it would be unique to Carbondale,” Breasted asserted. “It would be quite a feather in the town’s cap.”
In the event that his project is selected, Breasted has asked for a six-month lead time to raise money for the hostel, which he intends to manage himself.