Developer isn’t going all out on downtown projects

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

The Bidwell building redevelopment in downtown Aspen is the second proposal brought forward in the last year by Chicago businessman Mark Hunt that bucks the trend of new projects seeking to max out their allowable square footage and incorporate high-end residential condos.

The Bidwell project and Hunt’s nearby Gap building redevelopment seek to do neither. Both are two-story projects with large setbacks on the second floor, and the buildings would be entirely commercial. Both projects have the added benefit of a relatively easy city land-use review; neither needs to go before City Council because Hunt is not asking for any waivers from height and mass limits and is not seeking to add any square footage from what’s currently there.

“He seems to have figured out how to make money on projects by making them small,” Historic Preservation Commission member Jay Maytin said. “It’s always nice when someone doesn’t come in over the code.”

Hunt, according to public records, is the manager of 434 East Cooper Avenue, LLC, which paid $22 million for the Bidwell building and its 9,000-square-foot corner lot at Cooper and Galena Street in late December. He also is a principal of 204 South Galena Street, LLC, which paid $13.25 million for the Gap building and its 9,000-square-foot lot in September.

The current Bidwell building, designed by Aspen architect Fritz Benedict in the 1960s, is so named for the Bidwell family, which owned the property until selling to Hunt. It is home to the Kemo Sabe retail store and Ryno’s Pies and Pints. Beginning in 2007, the family sought to redevelop the two-story building into one with three stories, complete with free-market condos and affordable housing units. City Council denied approval for a 27,000-square-foot project in 2008. The Bidwells later submitted, and then withdrew, an 18,000-square-foot, three-story project.

Hunt’s project would scrape that building and replace it with about 15,000 square feet of commercial space, the same amount as is there today. There would be two secondary spaces on the ground level, and an anchor tenant space is designed to incorporate a larger ground floor space, the basement and second floor.

 Courtesy image
An architect’s rendering of the proposed redevelopment at 434 E. Cooper Ave. in Aspen. Developer Mark Hunt is bringing forward two projects that do not ask for three stories to include residential condos.

“It’s a good thing for the town,” Maytin said, adding that the property is part of the “mouth” to the Cooper Avenue walking mall. “No one wanted to see three stories on Bidwell.”

At the Gap building, Hunt is looking to build about 12,000 square feet of commercial space, with five storefronts on the ground floor, totaling around 9,000 square feet. A partial second floor is designed to hold a restaurant with a rooftop deck facing Galena Street. Both the Gap and Bidwell redevelopments are being designed by Charles Cunniffe Architects.

Local commercial broker Karen Setterfield, who was the listing broker on the Bidwell sale, said the ground-floor spaces in that building would likely command $150 per square foot or more. Galena Street has become the most desirable, and priciest, retail area of Aspen, Setterfield said.

A piece of collateral that Hunt used to lure potential investors in The Gap building described Galena Street as Aspen’s retail row and its answer to “Rodeo Drive,” “Madison Avenue,” “Bond Street” or the “Avenue des Champs-Elyees” with top luxury brands intertwined with art galleries, dining and local shops.

Planning consultant Mitch Haas, who has been working with Hunt on the Bidwell property, said Hunt is not a fan of mixing retail and residential components in his buildings.

“He just thinks it’s a poor relationship, that retail suffers when you mix the two together,” Haas said. “With residential, you get into affordable housing and all of the sudden you have a three-story building and issues with that.”

Aspen City Council last year lowered the maximum allowed building height in the commercial core from 42 feet to 28 feet, and has since banned new free-market condos. Although both the Gap and Bidwell projects were submitted before the code changes took effect, and therefore could have included condos and potentially four stories, the projects meet the more recently passed and more restrictive city zoning rules.

Haas said Hunt was “not even interested in hearing about what it would take to do residential.”

The Gap building approvals are finalized, and the Gap will be closing its doors at the end of February, with construction set for the spring. The Bidwell project still needs its final approval from the Historic Preservation Commission, which could come this spring. Redevelopment of that property could start in the fall of 2014.