Dust is flying these days at Willits Town Center on projects that have recently broken ground as well as new businesses that are completing tenant finish work before their June debuts.

Zane’s Tavern hopes to get its certificate of occupancy shortly and be able to offer take out and dining by the first week of June, according to Anna Zane, whose husband Eddie Zane is preparing to launch his third eponymous valley business. “We still have a few more things to do to open our doors,” she said.

Using ski-area parlance, Eagle County restaurants may start to move from the beginner/green phase to the intermediate/blue level of its COVID-19 response. A variance was granted Saturday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for several counties, including Eagle, to open in-house dining at bars and restaurants under specific guidelines.

Strict social distancing limits and other containment measures are part of the county’s plan, which spells out indoor seating at 50% of seating capacity for bars and restaurants and a 6-foot minimum between different parties.

“The welcome mat has been put out,” said Tim Belinski, president of IND Ventures, the representative, leasing agent and property manager for Willits’ owner Platform Ventures.

“The accommodations for safe distancing and state regulations are adhered to. The restaurants are training employees. Everybody’s trying to get back to life,” he said.

Another restaurant that’s anticipating to open soon in Willits is Ocean Seafood & Raw Bar in the space formerly occupied by Smoke.

“We are still planning the opening on June 4,” said Mario Hernandez, executive chef and co-owner of the family restaurant. Last month, the Basalt Town Council approved Ocean Seafood & Raw Bar’s liquor license.

Eagle County’s movement into the blue phase of its COVID-19 response will likely provide more opportunities for additional sales tax collections to prime the local coffers

Sales taxes generated from restaurants were down about 40% year-over-year for March, the most recent month that data is available, according to Basalt Finance Director Christy Hamrick. April’s numbers are anticipated by June 7, she said.

Within the March sales tax numbers, retail food sales were up 23% year over year, while people started stocking up as the pandemic descended on the Roaring Fork Valley. Both City Market and Whole Foods are within the sales tax boundaries.

Hamrick reported to town council some positive budget news during a recent meeting, in that actual March collections came in $70,000 over budget. Partial credit is due to the way the state now collects tax for online sales, she added.

Expanding outdoor spaces

Recently, the Aspen Skiing Co. received a building permit for its 43-unit Willits workforce housing project, and earthmoving is underway.

Building permit fees generated more than $104,000 to the town of Basalt’s general fund and $38,716 to the special improvement district, Hamrick said. All told, the SkiCo project will generate $293,717 in fees, she said Thursday.

SkiCo’s new construction is located cater-corner from another construction project, the second phase of One Willits Place, which will be mixed in its use. Its first phase — seven luxury condos — has seen one sale and two units put under contract, according to Tim Belinski, who is developing One Willits with Andrew Light.

Started during 2019, the million-dollar-plus residences have their certificates of occupancy. There’s also a model unit that’s furnished: “We’re anxious to show it off to people as we coordinate with individual showings,” Belinski said.

On One Willits’ north side, the building permit for 32 market-rate apartments that will be constructed on top of four commercial ground-floor units is close to being issued, according to James Lindt, assistant planning director for the town of Basalt.

Nearby, The Arts Center at Willits’ building permit for its performing arts facility is being reviewed, according to Susan Philp, Basalt’s planning director. On that same block of Willits Lane, the subdivision improvement agreement and other documents are being reviewed for the Steadman Clinic, according to Lindt.

Some businesses that are established in the 14-block area that comprises Willits are on the move. All told, there’s approximately 362,000 square feet of commercial property that may be built in Willits and about 300,000 of residential space.

According to Belinski, Tan Bar has relocated to Market Street and Isberian Rugs will soon be opening on Market Street and East Valley Road, next to AT&T.

Belinski said both Mezzaluna and the Wienerstube restaurants are looking at expanding their outside seating opportunities. The latter “had available space and was able to use it for expanded seating,” he said. Preliminary discussions about utilizing some of the existing parking spots of Harris Street for expanded patio dining have begun, he said.

Anticipated to open its midvalley location later this year is Jean Robert’s Gym, which is situated next to Zane’s and near the American National Bank.

Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at madski@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @Madski99