Aspen developer Mark Hunt has received “a ton of interest” from parties eyeing the historic space known as the Red Onion since the beloved local haunt announced its temporary closure on Nov. 30.
But Hunt, who owns the building, in an interview Wednesday maintained the same sentiment he’s articulated since November: that the Red Onion “absolutely” remains the priority tenant and “is 100% coming back.”
Hunt also said the building requires so much maintenance and TLC that any conversations about the space’s future are premature at this point. The restaurant and bar is in need of a new kitchen, new mechanical and plumbing systems and new bathrooms, according to Hunt.
“My guess is it’s probably a couple years by the time [the city is] able to turn the plans and determine what they’ll allow and won’t allow. So I think it’s going to be a while,” Hunt said. “This summer, we were really hopeful [to reopen], but there’s zero chance. Like absolute zero chance.”
Based on his experiences with other developments, Hunt, who owns several commercial properties in Aspen, estimated the city is 15-24 months from becoming involved and reviewing plans on the space.
“Right now, we’re in the city’s hands, just waiting for comments based on the stuff that we feel we need to do to the building in order to bring it up to speed, and that’ll really determine [the] when,” Hunt said. He added shortly after, “I think there’s just such a backlog. I don’t know, maybe we get lucky, and it turns quicker. But it’s just totally, completely out of our control.”
In the interim, Hunt said, any conceptual ideas or proposals for the space are just that.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiry, so we’re talking to a lot of people, but really just talking to them [and] not taking it any further because, again, we have no idea [of the timeline],” he said. “We’re listening to people and listening to other ideas from various operators and people who have shown interest in the space, but nothing more than that.”
As an Aspen institution — and among the few remaining locally serving establishments – communal interest in the Red Onion’s future is high.
“Everywhere I go, the only question I get asked is, what’s going on with the Red Onion, are you guys coming back?” Jordan White, the Red Onion’s longtime manager, said Wednesday. “And all I can really say is, I hope we’re coming back, it’s in our landlord’s hands right now.
And, as interest often lends itself to speculation, the latest rumor mill rendered Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg as an interested party. But Goldberg, when reached Tuesday, said those conversations are not happening.
Hunt confirmed: “We’ve talked, really just about the Red Onion kind of generally … [but] nothing specific as far as an operator or anything like that.”
Red Onion part-owner Brad Smith could not be reached by the Daily News’ press time Wednesday. After announcing the hiatus in November, Smith expressed a clear desire to reopen the restaurant and bar under less restrictive, pandemic-driven circumstances.
“This is not how the Red Onion functions. The Red Onion functions busy, all day, all night, for the community,” Smith said at the time. “People packed in, people dancing on the bar, this is what we want. And that’s what I want to see again in the future.”