By Andre Salvail / The Aspen Times
More than 400 people turned out Thursday evening to celebrate the opening of the Chabad Jewish Community Center in Aspen.
The new 19,000-square-foot building at Main and Fourth streets had been in the works for nearly a decade. In 2006, the Aspen City Council approved initial project plans that called for a 34,000-square-foot community center taking up half a city block. In the years since, the project was scaled back, partly because of the Great Recession and difficulty raising funds for construction, and partly because space requirements were re-evaluated.
More money eventually came through: Nearly $5 million has been donated since a groundbreaking ceremony was held in March 2012. The $18 million project is now a reality. One facet of plans is still in the works, though — a new residence for the center’s leader.
“It’s a Jewish community center,” Rabbi Mendel Mintz said. “Part of it has a synagogue. There’s a conference room, a ballroom for events and parties of all kinds, a library, a business center, classrooms, a preschool, a retreat center.
“There’s a little of everything for everyone. It’s really a full community center for locals, visitors, second-home owners. Our goal is to serve children and adults. It’s an all-inclusive building.”
Mintz sought to dispel the suggestion that the center would only serve members of the Chabad faith, a Hasidic Jewish movement. Chabad adheres to the Orthodox practice of Judaism.
The Chabad Jewish Community Center is separate from the Aspen Jewish Congregation, which meets at the Aspen Chapel on Meadowood Drive, as well as the Neshama Center, a nonprofit organization offering Jewish education and services to the residents of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
“No one has complained or objected” about applying the name Jewish Community Center to the building, Mintz said, even though Aspen’s other two Jewish groups were not involved with the project.
Mintz said the new center is open to all Jews and non-Jews and will invite secular programming.
“Everyone is welcome in this building,” Mintz said. “We encourage people to come and get a tour and walk through the building during business hours. It will offer cultural programs, religious events, intellectual pursuits of all kinds going forward.”
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, was one of a few elected officials who attended Thursday’s event and spoke about the center’s merits. Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron and state Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, also provided remarks.
“It looks like Rosh Hashanah in here,” Skadron quipped, making a reference to the Jewish holiday.
“Just promise me no turtles with iPads,” the mayor said, joking about a controversial marketing gimmick at the new Aspen Art Museum building in downtown Aspen.
Skadron said that when he served on the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission several years ago, the Chabad center was one of the first projects he had to evaluate.
“I’m known for being hard on developments, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “I tried as hard as I could to find flaws with this application, and I couldn’t. … This is going to be a tremendous community asset.”
The property for the new building lies between Third and Fourth streets and was bought in 2003 for $6.3 million. For decades it was the home of the L’Auberge d’Aspen Lodge cabins. All but six of the cabins were removed and relocated, Mintz said.