Approvals spark new life into downtown JAS Center project

The Aspen Times

Nearly three years after Aspen City Council cleared the founder of Jazz Aspen Snowmass to launch a jazz performance and education center downtown, Jim Horowitz said he expects the project will get rolling before the year is over.

JAS announced this week that developer Mark Hunt has received the entitlements and approvals and is actively seeking a building permit to begin construction. Horowitz said he anticipates work to begin in 14 to 16 weeks once the permit is pulled.

“These approvals are for the special perimeter, core and shell of the JAS Center,” the announcement said. “No longer a matter of ‘if,’ only ‘when’ construction begins.”

Most of the property that will be redeveloped is on the second level of 416, 420 and 422 E. Cooper Ave. and above the old Red Onion space. It will be called JAS Center @ Red Onion.

“There is a valid land use approval in place to proceed with a renovation of the building that will provide a venue for JAS,” said city planning director Amy Simon in an email. “We can’t confirm how long the permit review will take. It depends as much on the applicant and the quality of their permit submittal as it depends on our review time.”

JAS has had a contract in place since 2018 to purchase the property from Hunt, who will be responsible for getting the bulk of the redevelopment completed.

“We went under contract for this four years ago and just by the time we had the design and what we had wanted to build, COVID hit, and everything went into hibernation,” Horowitz said. “And it’s only been in the last six months that it’s really started to heat up where people are willing to have these conversations.”

Horowitz said the JAS Center will be a “four-in-one project. It’s four uses under one roof.”

A supper club and jazz cafe, event space, a recording studio and classrooms for the organization’s music education program will be the main features of JAS Center. The project calls for 9,500 square feet, as well as a 600-square-foot terrace overlooking the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall.

The venue will adjust according to the seasons, Horowitz said, noting a supper club will be fully operational during the winter and summer. JAS will produce events as well as outside groups.

“It’s either going to be our show or it’s going to be some kind of event, but the event most likely will have music also,” he said. “It’s always going to be open. And in the evening during prime time, it’s either going to be JAS Cafe or it’s going to be some kind of event. That’s most of the winter and summer usage.”

JAS Cafe, which is part of the organization’s programming, is a series of jazz performances. The rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum is the venue for JAS Cafe this summer.

The JAS Academy also will prosper with the new venue, Horowitz said of the organization’s all-scholarship music education program led by artistic director Christian McBride.

“This building will be a godsend for that program because right now, we’re nomads,” Horowitz said, “and we bounce around with different facilities we rent. This place is a classroom, a music hall and a studio all under one roof.”

The center will be a “turnkey special events venue,” where people can dine, listen to speakers and hear music, Horowitz said. The venue could accommodate anywhere from 100 to 300 people for events ranging from public concerts to private wedding receptions, he said.

During the slower times of the year for tourism, the facility will be available to local music education programs for recitals and events.

“This is going to be a cauldron of energy in the core,” Horowitz said, adding that they’re taking a “truly historic building and reimagining it for public purposes.”

Securing the entitlements and approvals for the redevelopment also will help fuel the JAS “Keep the Music Playing” fundraising campaign to support the project, Horowitz said. So far JAS has received $16 million in commitments “from a blend of longtime friends of the organization and a lot of new ones, which is a great, great sign,” he said.

“The $16 million that came through the quiet phase where we were testing the waters is what’s particularly encouraging,” he said.

Those pledges put the non-for-profit organization $9 million away from meeting its $25 million goal, which is the amount needed to complete the project’s buildout and acquire the physical property JAS Center will occupy, Horowitz said.

“This truly is a transformational moment for JAS along with a handful of individuals, organizations and events, which changed JAS forever,” Horowitz said in a statement. “We’d also like to thank Mark Hunt for giving JAS this incredible opportunity to establish a permanent home and unique community asset in Aspen’s core. … The timing for JAS Center is right and the time is right now.”

The Hunt-owned Red Onion space on the ground level is being separately redeveloped, but on a much smaller scale than the JAS Center, for a future restaurant to be owned and operated by Samantha and Craig Cordts-Pearce. The Aspen couple also run five other restaurants in the area.

Though a notice of stop-work order remained in plain view on the front entrance to the Red Onion as of Wednesday, the city deactivated the order two weeks ago, according to Simon.

By: Rick Carroll I  The Aspen Times I August 19, 2022


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