Old Gap building prepares to fill downtown Aspen’s luxury niche

by Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

As the new “Aspen 1” building — the former location of The Gap clothing store — nears completion, several high-end luxury retailers are preparing to set up shop early next year.

Theory, which had a presence in the old Aspen Drug building, will be moving into one of the five spaces carved out for storefront retail along Galena Street.

Theory is the only store that has applied for its interior building permit, said Chris Bendon, the city’s community development director.

A Helmut Lang boutique, which is owned by Theory’s parent company, Link Theory Holdings of Tokyo, also will be moving into the building, according to sources. Link Theory Holdings bought Helmut Lang from Prada in the mid-2000s.

Italian luxury industry fashion house Dolce & Gabbana will take two spaces — one for men’s clothing and the other dedicated to women.

“It’s not going to happen until next year but we are of course excited,” to have an Aspen presence, said Cara Forte Diaz, senior public relations manager at Dolce & Gabbana.

The space in the middle of the store is out for lease signature with an unknown retailer, according to sources familiar with the property.

Lorrie Winnerman, the Aspen real estate agent who assisted downtown developer Mark Hunt with the purchase of the building, declined to confirm the tenants but passed along a statement via email from his leasing agent, whose identity is not known.

“We are fortunate to sign with international companies and they prepare their own press releases,” the agent wrote. “We sign confidentiality statements with them, so unless you have a release from the tenant themselves, we cannot say anything.”

One lease was signed this past summer and the tenant announced his plans in July. On the second floor of the building, the David Burke Kitchen is scheduled to open in February.

The restaurant will take up the roughly 5,200-square-foot upper floor of the building, which is being developed by Hunt, who also is an investor and developer of several other properties downtown.

 Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
A view of the former Gap building currently under construction, as seen on a recent afternoon from East Hopkins Avenue.

He and some investors purchased the building, which housed one of the last affordable retailers in town — The Gap — and the adjacent parking lot for $13.25 million last year.

According to local commercial real estate brokers, the going rate for retail space along South Galena Street is between $150 and $200 per square foot.

The new development is two stories and was approved at 21,452 square feet at the corner of Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue. When Hunt was seeking investors to acquire the building he advertised the space as a “luxury retail development.” A piece of collateral seeking investors described Galena Street as “Aspen’s retail row and its answer to ‘Rodeo Drive,’ ‘Madison Avenue,’ ‘Bond Street’ or the ‘Avenue des Champs-Elysées’ with top luxury brands intertwined with art galleries, dining and local shops.”

To be sure, the spaces that will occupy what for 21 years was a place for locals to pick up a pair of $30 jeans, are no longer catering to that clientele. For instance, Dolce & Gabbana’s website prices women’s T-shirts at between $325 and over $500. Pants run from just under $500 to close to $700.

Theory offers women’s pants also in the hundreds of dollars, as does Helmut Lang. There are, of course, items that run into the thousands of dollars at the boutiques, according to their websites.

Perhaps local worker-bees may find themselves more comfortable upstairs at the bar, restaurant and outdoor patio.

The restaurant will be in the farm-to-table style, much like Burke’s restaurant in New York’s Soho neighborhood. He told the Aspen Daily News this past summer that he plans to use local products as much as possible and there will be a bar menu.

Led by executive chef Matthew O’Neill, who most recently ran the Ajax Tavern kitchen, the new restaurant will showcase Burke’s style of cooking featuring all-American sourced ingredients with items from Colorado, along with a beverage program and hand-crafted cocktails, according to a press release announcing the February opening.

“When I visit Aspen I am struck by the immediate sense of community,” Burke said in the release. “Our farm-to-table restaurant is approachable and is meant to become a natural gathering place for both locals and visitors alike.”