Formal discussion slated for May
By John Colson
Sopris Sun correspondent
An arts center, a chamber of commerce, a startlingly non-traditional cafe and gathering spot, and a boarding house or hostel — those are the four options being proposed for the still-vacant former home of the old Gordon Cooper Library in Carbondale.
All four were presented to the town’s board of trustees at a work session on Tuesday, and all four will be the subject of a future, formal town board meeting, probably on May 13, said Town Manager Jay Harrington.
The town-owned library building, located at S. Fourth Street and Garfield Avenue, has stood empty since the local branch of the Garfield County Library system moved to a new library building a couple of blocks south of the old one, at Third Street and Sopris Avenue.
A plan hatched last year to use the old library building to house the artworks of nationally known sculptor James Surls, who lives just outside Carbondale, was abandoned in January after its proponents were told by potential financial backers that the library site was not appropriate.
A new local site for the James Surls Center for the Visual Arts, which proponents pledged to find if they could, has not yet been determined, according to local architect John Baker, who was working on the Surls Center proposal.
But a possible site has turned up just north of Town Hall, and an offer was made to buy the property but not yet accepted, Baker told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday.
In the meantime, four separate proposals for use of the old library space came from:
• The Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH) in partnership with the Dance Initiative (DI) nonprofit umbrella organization, proposing to use the space as a combined dance facility and arts center;
• The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, proposing to relocate its offices to the old library building, from its current location at the Third Street Center, 520 S. Third St.;
• Local entrepreneurs A.J Hobbs and Trevor Howard, proposing to partially occupy the building with a “cafe and community events gathering space” based on a “radical” and nontraditional business model, according to the proposal’s application. Hobbs, who is a newly elected town trustee, recused himself from the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.
• And a low-cost, publicly owned hostel, possibly to be affiliated with the Hostel International USA organization, proposed by local resident Jim Breasted.
Over the course of more than three hours, the proponents of the different possible users of the building put their respective cases before the trustees, with the understanding that no decision would be made that night because the meeting was an informal work session.
The arts center idea, championed by CCAH Director Amy Kimberly, DI board member Dana Ganssle Ellis and DI Director Peter Gilbert, would involve the use of the old library space as an art gallery for CCAH, and dance rehearsal rooms with a “sprung” dance floor for use by DI-supported dancers and others.
Kimberly pledged that CCAH would keep its existing quarters at the Third Street Center for certain functions, in partnership with another, unnamed co-tenant for the space. But she maintained that having the CCAH gallery space and a gift shop at the new library would help add to the “vitality” of the town core, place CCAH in a more visible downtown location, and provide sales-tax revenues to the town.
Gilbert rattled off a half-dozen names of local dance organizations supported by DI, and announced that he hoped ultimately to create “a formal performing arts academy here in Carbondale.”
But for now, Gilbert said, the old library building would serve as a kind of incubator space for budding dance talent, who could then go on to perform in such larger venues as the Thunder River Theater or other public locations.
Carbondale Chamber Director Andrea Stewart, along with chamber board member Frank Zlogar (who also serves on The Sopris Sun’s board) told the trustees that the idea to relocate to the old library space is supported by the chamber’s 440 members. The new location, Stewart said, is a way to increase the chamber’s visibility and accessibility to the general public, pledging that as part of the changes made possible by the new location the chamber is planning to place an interactive kiosk outside where visitors can check on local activities, book dinner reservations or otherwise get information about the town.
In response to a question from Mayor Stacey Bernot, Stewart said a decision two years ago to downsize the staff and move the chamber from its previous location at the north end of town, to the Third Street Center, was largely a response to declining membership and revenues during the Great Recession.
“We have turned our books around,” she said, and are looking for a larger, more permanent location near the center of town.
For his presentation, Trever Brown, co-founder of an entity named Smink (a blend of Smile and Think), proposed creation of The Other Space Cafe, which he termed a “pay-it-forward community cafe” where customers would pay only as much as they could, or want to, in a bid to reduce what Brown termed “food insecurity” among locals scratching to make ends meet.
Brown, who lives in Basalt, said the idea for this kind of non-traditional cafe, and the community gathering place it represents, has been tried in 30 other locations around the country. He specifically named the One World Cafe in Evergreen, the SAME (meaning So All May Eat) Cafe in Denver, and the Soul Kitchen, a charity restaurant owned by rock star Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation in New Jersey, as inspirational efforts in other parts of the country.
Newly elected trustee Katrina Byars told Brown, “I think this is a really cool concept,” but she also cautioned him that the town is “still operating in the [traditional] dimension of things,” indicating that the SMINK proposal may fall a little outside the norm even for Carbondale.
In the final presentation of the meeting, Breasted proposed converting the old library into a two-story structure with bunks and other sleeping arrangements that would offer an option to travelers put off by high-priced hotel rooms that are typical of most Roaring Fork Valley accommodations.
“It’s a very expensive place to come and visit,” Breasted told the trustees, recounting times in his youth when he traveled around the country and the world by staying at youth hostels.
Pointing to a map depicting Hostel International USA locations around the country, Breasted said, “There’s nothing in the Rocky Mountains at all. I think that’s a part of the market I would love to see Carbondale address.”
In response to concerns that may arise among the local commercial hotel community, he said, “This would be at the low end. I don’t see it competing with anybody.”
He asked the trustees, if they approved his proposal, to give him six months to begin working out the details of raising money to renovate the old library structure and put the business together.