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December 11, 2013
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Surls Center lease OK’d, with conditions

CARBONDALE — After considerable debate, and a heated accusation that the trustees were “micro-managing” the project inappropriately, the town board on Tuesday night approved by a vote of 6-1 a 20-year lease with three 10-year renewal options for the James Surls Center for Visual Art in the old, town-owned Gordon Cooper Library building at Garfield Avenue and Fourth Street.

Trustee Allyn Harvey voted against the proposed lease over concerns about the renewal terms, which he felt should be shorter, according to Town Manager Jay Harrington.

Prior to approval of the lease, architects John Baker and Ramsey Fulton outlined the design of the building, which is to incorporate the old library structure into a new, larger structure capable of displaying the large sculptures created by internationally renowned artist James Surls. The project is expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million, which is to be raised by Surls and his supporters.

The planned building is to feature a variety of linked facades, including brick, marble panels, wood and other materials, and preserving the grassy area on the southern side of the property, adjacent to Garfield Avenue, as an outdoor sculpture garden.

Also planned is an enclosed garden with a gate that can be locked for security reasons, as it also will contain sculptures.

Baker and Fulton stressed that they have made a number of changes in the original building design, based on input from Carbondale citizens and officials, which Fulton said have achieved a “softening” of the facades and appear to “better integrate the two buildings,” meaning the existing library and the planned additions.

“I think it looks great,” said Trustee Elizabeth Murphy. “I think it’ll fit in nicely with the surrounding areas.”

She questions, however, the decision to build the two-story, north side addition, where Surls’ pieces will be displayed, right up to the lot line along the alley parallel to Garfield Avenue.

Baker said the designers expect the corner lot at 4th and Main, currently vacant except for a large storage building, to be redeveloped some day into a two or three-story building.

Such a development, Fulton said, would lead to “a tight-alley environment” where the new art center’s windowless northern facade would not be detrimental.

As approved, the lease is to require that the Center be open to the public 270 days a year, including at least one day per weekend so that working locals can visit, with “dark” periods allowed to move large artistic pieces in and out and permit work on the interior gallery spaces.

One of the interior spaces, the smaller, is to be managed by the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities and feature works by artists other than Surls.

But, Baker assured the trustees, “The vast majority of the space will be dedicated to work by Janes Surls.”

As a condition of the lease, the Center must attract at least 6,000 visitors per year or it will be considered in violation of the lease. The threshold number is to be taken as an average over two years, said Harrington, so that if it appears after one year that the Center is underperforming, the town and the Center’s managers can meet to work out a way to improve things.

The development team had suggested the threshold be set at 3,000 visitors per year, but that met with stiff resistance from the trustees.

“I think 5,000 a year would be a mark of success,” said Trustee Pam Zentmyer, after rejecting the idea of the lower number.

“Well, we were sold 10,000,” added Trustee Allyn Harvey, referring to the projected number of visitors claimed by Surls and his supporters when they proposed the arts center for the old library building.

Mayor Stacey Bernot agreed, saying at one point that anything below 6,000 visitors a year “is going to be a sign of failure.”

After the debate had gone on for more than an hour, Trustee John Foulkrod angrily took his fellow trustees to task.

“You want this museum to draw people to come here,” he declared, adding that he firmly believes the Center will attract people.

“He’s had his art on 5th Avenue in New York City,” Foulkrod continued. “Aside from that, this man is making an investment in the community. And I think he’s going to be carrying the ball,” and guiding the facility in a popular direction.

To the others on the board, Foulkrod said, “I think you’re micro-managing this to the point that it’s ridiculous,” and advised that the town simply sign the lease and let the project move forward.

While agreeing with some of Foulkrod’s points, Trustee Allyn Harvey countered that he was not ready to approve the lease without some modifications, saying he fears that it could become “another Thunder River Theater ... a building that is often dark and filled with what is basically a monotone.” The theater operates in a building near Town Hall.

Continuing with his reply to Foulkrod, Harvey asked if Foulkrod thought it unnecessary that the trustees want to raise the threshold of visitor numbers, when the developers seemed intent on numbers amounting to less than half of what was used to convince the town to go along with the museum proposal in the first place.

“That’s our job,” Harvey said. “It’s going to be fraught with some tough discussion.”

The lease will be modified to reflect the trustees’ recommended conditions, and be presented to the board for ratification at a future meeting.

In other action the board:

• Approved the town budget for 2014.

• Approved amendments to the Planned Unit Development for the Carbondale Square commercial complex, where City Market and Ace Hardware are located, to accommodate acquisition of some of the property by the Colorado Department of Transportation for construction of a roundabout at the nearby corner of Highway 133 and Main Street.

• Approved ordinances establishing zones where recreational marijuana business may locate, and enacting sales and excise taxes on recreational marijuana sales, cultivation and distribution.

• Approved the extension of development rights for planned affordable housing on land owned by the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District. The extension requires the school district to file its Phase 1 final plat by Jan. 31, 2015.


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The Post Independent Updated Dec 11, 2013 09:38PM Published Dec 14, 2013 01:06PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.