A group of local investors led by the former president of Related Colorado acquired the majority of the Snowmass Mall on Thursday for $28.5 million from a subsidiary of Related Cos.
Dwayne Romero, principal of The Romero Group property management firm who helped orchestrate the purchase from his former employer, said that the deal represents a new day for the property’s existing tenants.
Snowmass Mall Investment Group LLC is now the owner of 80,000 square feet consisting of the “three food groups” of commercial property, according to Romero: restaurant, retail and service businesses.
Romero touted the mall as a destination made up primarily of locally owned businesses and local operators whom he said deserve a tip of the cap for making it through years of recent uncertainty.
Under Related’s ownership, which dates to 2005 under a subsidiary of the global real estate developer, the mall was eyed for scrape-and-replace redevelopment, which was a deterrent to long-term investment in the existing physical space, Romero said. That will change under the new ownership, he said.
“We are not focused on scrape and replace; we are focused on supporting the merchants and growing their businesses,” he said.
Romero describes his investors as “non-institutional and knowledgeable” — private individuals who either live in the valley or have close ties to the community.
That meshes well with the mall itself, Romero said, with its stable of small local businesses.
“The mall at the end of the day is made up of locals and is driven by locals and our read and our view is that our visitors and guests want to go where the locals go,” Romero said. “So if we can build that moxie and that reputation that the mall is a place to go for local engagement — great restaurants, great retail, great service — then we are probably doing something pretty good.”
Plans for the property include catching up on deferred maintenance and making physical improvements, such as better signage. There is potential to pursue some smaller renovation and construction projects within individual buildings on the mall, Romero said.
Romero also spoke to enhanced branding efforts related to the mall and stronger partnerships with “contributors to the Aspen/Snowmass experience.”
He said there is no reason to see the growing commercial center in Base Village as a rival. Both commercial nodes can thrive together, he said, and a rising tide lifts all boats. The mall also has its own close-in bed base that consists of “thousands of pillows,” Romero added.
The property that the new ownership group acquired Thursday starts at the bus stop area, including the coffee shop Fuel, and encompasses the main part of the mall up to Christy Sports on one side and the free standing Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s building on the other side.
The mall commercial building that’s part of the Westin hotel complex, and the Timbermill building where Venga operates, are separately owned and not part of the potential sale.
Related in December 2016 sold its Base Village assets to a partnership consisting of Aspen Skiing Co., KSL Capital and East West Partners. The project is under construction again after losing its financing in the recession and stalling for the better part of a decade.
Related’s only remaining assets in Snowmass consist of the Mountain Chalet and Snowmass Inn, said Romero, who was president of the company from 2008 through 2015.
The Snowmass Mall parcels formerly controlled by the Related subsidiary were acquired separately beginning around 2005 for about $25 million by a group led at the time by Patrick Smith. (In 2007, Smith was part of the Related WestPac venture that bought Base Village from Aspen Skiing Co.and Intrawest for $169 million; he would later leave the partnership.)
The partners first purchased the addition to the Snowmass Mall closest to the RFTA stop, once known as the Gateway Building, for $10.8 million in May 2005. The same entity within a year acquired the three commercial buildings that include the iconic Stew Pot, plus the mall’s open space thoroughfare, for $14 million.
The Snowmass Mall was first developed in 1967 as part of the European-style village designed by architect Fritz Benedict. When the section acquired Thursday was initially listed for sale in 2016 through the real estate advisory firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, the one-acre parcel was reported to be leased to 45 tenants, was 89 percent occupied and was then producing a net operating income of $1.84 million.