The initial multimillion-dollar question at the heart of the proposed Centennial Apartments redevelopment is clear: what will happen to the nearly 500 or so local residents, who account for a significant contingent of Aspen’s economic workforce, amid years of construction during a phased redevelopment?
The answer to that question — which was tenants’ primary concern during a meeting Thursday morning with the redevelopment team — is anything but concrete.
“I don’t see how we’re going to proceed with this development without coming up with a solution for interim housing,” Jeff Solomon, director of acquisitions for Birge & Held, said Thursday.
The Indianapolis-based real estate firm, which manages and develops apartments in more than 65 communities across nine states, bought the Centennial complex in March 2020 for nearly $51 million.
“It’s going to be multiple solutions to it — whether it be a combination of [phasing] construction and then working with different partnerships to create more affordable housing,” Solomon said.
The development team is currently exploring partnerships with private landowners and developers as well as the city of Aspen, Solomon informed the 30 or so Centennial tenants who stopped by the two-hour open house format Thursday.
Entertaining “certain sites the city may have available,” Solomon said, “we haven’t come to an agreement or identified specific sites.”
If Birge & Held, in partnership with other entities, develops property as an interim housing solution during construction, “some of it would stay affordable housing, depending if it’s private or city or what the case is,” he said.
On the free-market side, the average sales price for a single-family home is about $14.5 million, with townhouses and condos reaching an average of $2.1 million.
In July, Birge & Held submitted a sketch plan application to the city that calls for scraping and rebuilding Centennial’s 148 rental units. The developers will present the proposal before Aspen City Council on Sept. 28.
“While there is no impending circumstance that necessitates Centennial’s redevelopment, Birge & Held is proposing a plan that would keep the units affordable in perpetuity as well as rebuild them with upgraded and eco-friendly construction, improved floor plans, more interactive outdoor spaces and modern amenities,” according to the project overview. “The plan also includes 59 free-market units that will largely fund the entire project, the construction of which, if approved, would begin no sooner than 2024 and is estimated to take 24-30 months.”
Solomon emphasized Thursday that the construction timeline will depend largely on how the project is phased, with rehousing Centennial’s current tenants in mind. All told, the rental complex consists of 11 buildings, 148 units and 221 bedrooms.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people reside at Centennial at any given time due to the valley’s challenging and fluid housing situation — compounded by under-the-radar living arrangements. Kim Keilin, Centennial property manager of more than 30 years, estimates that about 450 people call the property home.
Another concern among some of those tenants is where the interim housing would be located. One sentiment residents expressed Thursday, both vocally and in the form of written feedback, is that they would leave the Roaring Fork Valley if relocated outside Aspen.
Under the poster board headline, “Exploring interim housing ideas,” one sticky note read, “Will probably leave Aspen altogether if [we] have to be displaced downvalley.” Another read: “A lot of people will leave Aspen if we are moved downvalley.” Of course, opinions varied: “Open to moving downvalley with financial help,” another orange sticky note read.
“We just want to be able to dip our toe into conversations without getting it bitten off in the very beginning,” local resident Kathleen Wanatowicz, who is working with the development team on outreach, said Thursday. “That’s why we’re having these tenant meetings first.” Another open house will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.
“This is going to be, hands down, one of the most complex projects that Aspen has really reviewed in a while. That’s a fact,” Wanatowicz said. “And to handle this kind of project, it just takes a lot of stakeholders in the room and the tenants and public and private to look at it.”