City seeking end to Astor House’s long-term vacancy

Posted 10/9/18

The city of Golden is asking the community what should become of the Astor House — a 151-year-old building in downtown Golden that has sat empty for, roughly, the past three years. On Sept. 24, the …

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City seeking end to Astor House’s long-term vacancy

Posted

The city of Golden is asking the community what should become of the Astor House — a 151-year-old building in downtown Golden that has sat empty for, roughly, the past three years.

On Sept. 24, the city issued a Request For Proposals to help determine the Astor House’s possible future use.

“We’re wanting ideas for uses for the property, and seeing what ideas the community might have,” said Golden’s Deputy City Manager Carly Lorentz. “We’re looking for the right use of the building.”

A Request For Proposal is a formal solicitation for ideas. The Astor House, 822 12th St., is owned by the city and operated by the Golden History Museums.

The Astor House has been closed since September 2015. Since then, it underwent a major rehabilitation and preservation project, leaving the building structurally sound, but the interior is completely gutted — there are no ceilings, walls, plumbing or electrical. An asbestos abatement was completed in May 2016 and the roof was replaced in August this year.

Recent cost estimates are that it would take a minimum of $500,000 to make the building habitable.

Deadline to submit a Request For Proposal is Nov. 12.

If the city receives many, then a selection committee — consisting of city staff and representatives from the city’s appropriate boards and commissions — will be formed to evaluate the proposals, Lorentz said.

The final decision will be up to city council, Lorentz said. However, because the building was purchased by the city for municipal use, any use other than municipal would require a public vote.

The issue is expected to go to city council mid-December.

“The Astor House occupies a unique place in both Golden’s and Colorado’s history. We’re glad to see the city is actively soliciting fresh ideas for its future,” said Bill Litz, president of the Golden Landmarks Association. But, he added, “we hope the city finds a tenant that will respect its past and find a creative use for the building and its attached city park — a use that will benefit the greatest number of residents and visitors.”

The Astor House opened in September 1867 as a hotel, owned and operated by Seth Lake. It was purchased by Ida Goetz in 1892 who operated it as a boardinghouse.

As lodging, it hosted everyone “from territorial legislators, supreme court officials and Colorado School of Mines students to the indigent and poor,” Litz said.

Fast forward to the 20th century, and its recent history reveals that this is not the first time for the Astor House’s fate to be uncertain.

As part of urban renewal efforts in 1971, the Astor House was targeted to be destroyed to become a parking lot, said local historian Rick Gardner. The Golden Landmarks Association was formed at that time, primarily to save the Astor House. In June 1972, Golden residents voted and 69 percent favored saving the Astor House.

The city then purchased it for $31,488.55 “with the stipulation that it be used as a museum,” states city documents. It was restored and, for about 40 years, was open to the public as an historic house museum.

In April 2017, consultants began a feasibility study on the potential of turning the Astor House into a beer museum.

The results found that turning Astor House into a beer museum would help preserve its historic integrity, and might help it be financially self-sustaining. However, being only 3,000 square feet, the Astor House would be much too small to host a beer museum and it would have costed an estimated $5 million to construct any additions to enlarge it.

“It didn’t seem to fit the character of the space,” said Nathan Richie, the director of the Golden History Museums, in a previous interview. “It didn’t seem to be the best thing for the Astor House and the community, or a beer museum.”

Still, the study was a worthwhile endeavor, Richie said at the time, because it was the first time for any feasibility study to be done on the Astor House. It proved the Astor House is an inadequate space for any sort of stand-alone museum.

The city will accept nonprofit or profit-driven proposals, as well as lease or purchase proposals. If it’s a proposal to lease, a description of the proposed use and purpose should be provided. If it’s a proposal for purchase, it should include details on a proposed purchase amount and terms.

The Astor House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and the city wants to preserve the historic façade of the building. Proposals should include a preservation plan that outlines what steps would be taken for preservation of the historic façade and history of the building.

Any future use must make the Astor House economically self-sustaining. Proposals must include a business and financial plan for the property. Proposals should also demonstrate the ability to finance the renovation of the building and note “the ability to obtain any required permits and licenses required for any proposed use.”

“The Astor House is important to the Golden community in many ways,” said local historian Rick Gardner. “It has served the community for over a century and a half (and) it is imperative that it continue in this mission.”

Whatever becomes of it, he said, should “maximize the preservation and optimally mesh with (the Astor House) in character and function.”

It will need the community’s complete support and the decision for its future needs to be based on full community consensus, Gardner added.

The Astor House “should serve the community well,” Gardner said, “and be something the whole community will be proud of.”

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