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Unbuilt environment in Downtown Aspens causes angst
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Unbuilt environment in Downtown Aspens causes angst

The Buckhorn Arms building pictured on Jan. 27. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Officials from the City of Aspen are becoming more concerned about several buildings owned by Mark Hunt, a prominent landlord. These buildings are vacant of tenants.

Phillip Supino (the city’s director of community-development) said that we have heard from many residents concerning eyesores. It’s not a good appearance for residents, visitors, or the Hunt team.

Last month, the city contacted Hunt Development to request that they clean up graffiti on downtown buildings and improve conditions in the Boomerang Lodge neighborhood’s West End neighborhood.

Hunt stated last week that he recognized the Boomerang property needed some attention.

He said that we do need a fence. We inherited it. This can look much better. We’ll get it fixed.

The greater concern of city officials is the loss of economic and community vitality each year Hunts properties are left vacant or under construction.

Hunt, through limited liability companies that have undisclosed investors owns the Buckhorn Arms building at Cooper Avenue and Original Street. The shuttered Red Onion Building on Cooper Avenue as well as the ones to its right; the one next to it the Bidwell building which is currently under construction; the old Crystal Palace building on Hyman Avenue that is currently being developed but no construction is taking places; the defunct Main Street Bakery Building; and many other properties that currently have tenants.

It’s been several years since Hunt has purchased those properties and received land-use approvals for them, but changes keep being made to the plans.

Amy Simon, city director planning, stated that there is a tendency to want to change designs. The community development would like to see these projects move forward. We are concerned about the effects of vacant buildings and prolonged construction periods.

Hunt, who was more than a decade old when he first entered the Aspen commercial realty scene and has since developed three properties, stated that it has been a challenging environment to construct.

He stated that he’s dealt with four changes to the land use code, a moratorium on commercial development, and a citizen referendum that allowed the electorate vote on variances and ordinances that limit heights to 28ft and allow chain stores to be present.

Hunt stated that those changes have their consequences and that it takes longer.

Supino stated that he is aware that Aspen has a complex environment for development. This is due to the community’s high expectations for downtowns built landscapes. However, that doesn’t mean that things can’t be done.

He stated that although Aspen is complex in terms of regulatory and development requirements, we have many successful major redevelopments currently underway or being completed in recent times. I don’t accept the suggestion that the city is responsible for other projects not moving as quickly.

Aspen Mayor Torre said that many community members approach them to express their sadness and wonder about buildings that are historical in nature or that had local businesses that were located in them, but that they remain vacant.

He said that he sympathizes with their frustration. I disagree with the fact that the city is stalling his projects.

Simon pointed out Hunt had 11 land-use approvals and could have built them. However, if he makes major changes to the original plans, some of these plans are subject to new land code regulations.

She said that he can build what was approved.

Hunt stated that his team isn’t interested in building generic buildings and that they are taking great care with the design and construction.

We don’t focus on getting things off the shelf. That is our frustration. Our goal is to build great buildings which will last a lot longer than us or our children.

Another reason for delays in projects is that tenant driven changes to buildings are making it difficult for tenants to make their demands.

Hunt stated that he was not responsible for designing buildings without tenants and that sometimes those designs are done in a hurry to get approvals before the rules change again.

The original approvals for the Bidwell building at 434 E. Cooper Ave., and the Crystal Palace at Hyman Avenue were modified. These projects have been delayed at the request of RH, the tenant and coowner of the properties.

Hunt stated that there is significant movement at the Bidwell location, and construction will restart on the Crystal Palace site by March.

RH’s main shopfront at Bidwell will house a gallery and a restaurant. Former Crystal Palace will house a boutique hotel and RH brand.

Hunt stated that RH is a visionary business and it will be well worth the wait. It is frustrating for all parties and I apologize to the entire community that it has taken longer than expected.

There are also changes to the original approval for the Base1 hotel, where the Buckhorn Arms building can be found across from City Market.

Hunt stated that Hunt’s development company has signed an agreement with a hotel operator. The operator requested changes to the building’s layouts.

Base1 will feature a rooftop terrace with public accessibility, bars, restaurants, and other amenities.

Hunt said that he is more excited about the building than any of them. Hunt also added that the city has been great to work with on this project. It will be the greatest gift to the community.

The city has approved the former Main Street Bakery property for a restaurant. A building permit has also been submitted to it and is currently under review.

Hunt purchased the property in 2019 after it was closed for nearly three years. He said that this is an example of tenant need stalling the project.

Potential restaurateurs stated that they would like a breezeway due to the fact that there are two buildings on this site, one old and one new.

Hunt stated that this would have been a significant change and would have required a lengthy review by the city.

It was in its present condition when I bought it. However, we were well aware of the city’s aversion towards change so we waited. He said it sat. Finally, we found an operator who will take it there without the breezeway. We are now constructing, hopefully in two more months.

He would not reveal the operator, but said they had local ties and the future operators of the historic Red Onion. It is expected to open by Thanksgiving.

The buildings located next to and above Red Onion are being planned for a music performance centre operated by Jazz Aspen Snowmass.

Hunt stated that Hunt has already released the majority of the portfolio. I know the community is frustrated. But I promise that we will make it right.

Hunt said that one tenant has leased the building that houses Su Casa and Erics Bar on Hyman Avenue. Hunt also stated that he has several ideas for the property. Hunt says that he plans to open a restaurant.

Hunt declined to identify Hunt’s tenant. Hunt will likely apply for a building permits this month to remodel the interior.

Su Casa, Erics and Aspen Billiards are set to close in April.

Torre stated that the community’s vitality is being slowly lost as a result of the closing of local businesses like the ones that used to operate in Hunts buildings.

People have started to put Evict Mark Hunt stickers on buildings and Kleenex dispensers at Aspen Mountain’s lift lines, as a result of the loss so many affordable restaurants and bars.

It has reached a new level, Torre stated.

He said that it was detrimental for the community if one developer took on multiple projects at once.

He advised that you should complete one before moving on to the next.

Torre stated that the municipal government has limited control over the free market. However, he and other city officials are exploring ways to prevent or reduce what is already happening in the future.

He said that Aspen’s redevelopment and evolution must be a team effort, where everyone is working together.

You can attach performance bonds to projects in the event that they stall. However, this only protects the site from being dangerous or makes it easier for the public to improve things like putting a sidewalk where one used to be.

Supino said that the city has limited ability to influence the market, real estate dynamics, and types of businesses. Supino also stated that residents and city officials are increasingly concerned about the disappearance and resiliency of locally-owned businesses that are vital for a sustainable community and economy. I have told Mark and his team to consider their impact on the local economic.

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