Interest in buying five West End lots off the U.S. Forest Service is mounting, as officials gear up for the live public auction at the end of this month.
The White River National Forest has contracted with General Services Administration (GSA) to help market and auction off 1 acre of its 3-acre administrative site on Seventh Street. The acre will be divided up into five lots near the corner of North Eighth and West Smuggler streets.
Advertising for the available real estate began in earnest in July, with ads running in newspapers locally and around the country, as well as online. The auction is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Aug. 27 at the Aspen Meadows Resort.
“To date, the advertising seems to be working very well,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. “We have received calls from all over the country and even London, England. Obviously, we have no idea if people are going to bid, but we have been getting plenty of interest. I suspect we have fielded over 100 calls from outside of the Aspen area. Some people have called and wanted to buy the lots right on the spot.”
The Forest Service has spent $35,600 on advertising in both Aspen papers, as well as in the Denver Post, L.A. Times, New York Times and the Dallas Morning News, according to Fitzwilliams.
“We worked with the GSA sales personnel who recommended we spread our direct advertising across the country geographically — hitting major newspapers in large markets,” he said.
The Forest Service has contracted with GSA, which is charging a $40,000 fee, to handle the auction. That’s instead of using a real estate broker who would collect a handsome commission on the potential multimillion-dollar sale.
GSA is a federal agency that provides services for governments to help them dispose of, sell and optimize their properties.
The proceeds from the West End sale will help fund the White River National Forest’s redevelopment its visitors’ center, administration offices, bunkhouses for seasonal workers and housing for year-round employees on the remaining 2 acres of the site. Revenue generated from the sale also could go toward other capital projects in the White River National Forest for facility upgrades.
“We are excited to see what happens at the Aug. 27 auction,” Fitzwilliams said. “I am hopeful we get an acceptable bid so we can begin to rebuild some of our facilities on the forest, which have deteriorated to very poor condition.”
Once the forest supervisor’s office completes the redevelopment designs, the existing buildings on the site will be demolished — likely next year — and construction could begin next summer. The White River National Forest is planing on the new buildings being ready in 2015.
A neighbor of the parcel attempted to prevent the sale, by filing an appeal with the Forest Service earlier this year, arguing that the sale and redevelopment of the lots would negatively impact the neighborhood and property values. That appeal was recently denied by the Forest Service.
Fitzwilliams said he found documentation that shows the Forest Service paid $330 in 1939 for the land through condemnation, because the property owner at the time didn’t want it anymore. He also noted that in the 1960s, the district ranger at the time recommended not buying an adjacent block that was available because the $5,000 price tag was too high.
The lots this month are sure to fetch much more than that — by millions of dollars. Vacant lots in the West End neighborhood have sold for $2 million or more, according to real estate brokers. The Forest Service has done some market analysis on the property, but is keeping those results close to the vest. The Forest Service’s marketing materials describe the lot as “desirable” and “prime property” in a quiet neighborhood close to downtown.
John Robinson, branch chief for the GSA’s real property utilization and disposal division, said his agency has a goal of what it wants to generate at this month’s auction, but he declined to say what that is, citing the competitive bidding process.
“The bidders that day will decide what the lots are worth,” he said of the auction, which will likely last about an hour. “It’s such a unique opportunity to have contiguous lots” that can be turned into single-family homes.
Interested buyers will have the option to buy one or any combination of lots, which range in size between 6,600 and 11,600 square feet. Home sizes on the lots could be in the 3,200- to 3,600-square-foot range, according to city of Aspen officials.
Robinson, a licensed auctioneer and real estate agent, will be in Aspen along with a GSA team the day before the sale to scope out the property and prepare for what could be a spirited auction, which includes live online and in-person bidding at the Aspen Meadows.
A $50,000 deposit is required for bidders who choose to participate online or in person. More information can be found at propertydisposal.gsa.gov.
GSA has contracted with Bidspotter.com, and the proceedings will be streamed on the Web so interested buyers can see and hear the auction live. GSA representatives will be on the phone with Bidspotter personnel during the auction to track bids online.
“It’s as if they are in the room like everybody else,” Robinson said. “It’s a really neat way to participate in the bidding.”
There is no set dollar figure for the start of the bidding: “It doesn’t matter where it starts, it’s where it ends,” Robinson said.