ASPEN - Construction in Aspen last year kept pace with 2011 in terms of the overall value of projects. In fact it was up slightly.
That means the resort's construction industry hasn't come close to matching its pre-recession frenzy but is holding steady with the moderate rebound established in 2011, when the value of projects climbed about $66 million from the previous year.
While several big projects in Aspen wrapped up in 2012, others have begun, including excavation work at the sites of the future Aspen Art Museum and Chabad Jewish Community Center. More are potentially in the pipeline, according to Stephen Kanipe, the city's chief building official, pointing to an increase in the number of land-use applications submitted to the city last year.
"When those are up, it means there are more people interested in doing more complex projects," he said. "There are a lot of people who are testing the waters."
The actual number of building permits the city issued in 2012 was down, which translates to a dip in the number of projects going on around town, but the value of the 2012 projects climbed slightly, which means the investment in the community held strong, Kanipe said.
The city issued 295 permits for residential construction last year, compared to 305 in 2011, and 222 permits for commercial projects, compared to 344 in 2011. Mechanical, plumbing and electrical permits numbered 719 in 2012, compared to 765 in 2011, according to data released last week by the city Building Department.
The overall value of last year's permitted construction, however, totaled $152.4 million, up roughly $1 million from 2011. Take a major expansion of Aspen Valley Hospital out of the 2011 numbers, and the value of 2012 construction activity was up about 40 percent, said Chris Bendon, director of the city's Community Development Department.
"The total number of permits really isn't the whole story," Bendon said.
Much of 2012's building activity involved smaller projects, according to Bendon, who pointed to the median value of construction for the permits issued each month. The median figure ranged from a low of $5,250 in December to a high of $20,000 in June, though the maximum value of a permitted project eclipsed $10 million in two months of 2012 and topped $20 million once.
"I think there's an assumption in town that a building permit represents a half-million dollars or a quarter-million in investment," Bendon said. "Ninety percent of what we see is under a quarter-million dollars. The vast majority of them are small projects."
Meanwhile, in unincorporated Pitkin County, residential construction activity slipped in terms of its overall value, while non-residential construction saw a measurable uptick, due in large part to the Aspen Music Festival and School campus redevelopment on Castle Creek Road and the construction of new Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus stops along Highway 82.
The county issued 81 residential building permits last year worth $54.4 million in construction, compared to 79 permits in 2011 that were worth $68.9 million. Last year, the county issued 50 permits for non-residential construction worth $27.2 million, compared to 29 permits worth $7.7 million in 2011.
In both the city and unincorporated county, the construction industry took a recession-fueled dive in 2009 and 2010 before showing signs of slow improvement, at least in the city, in 2011. The local building industry has not returned to the levels of 2005 through 2008, when it was booming, records show.
In Aspen, permitted construction activity was worth $348 million in 2006, $378.3 million in 2007 and $296.3 million in 2008. In 2009, it plummeted to $82.2 million.
In the county, where the building industry is primarily driven by large-home construction, 2008 was the high-water mark for the past decade, with 137 residential permits worth $130.3 million in construction. In 2007, the county issued 187 permits worth $120.9 million in residential construction. In 2009, activity fell to 93 permits worth $71.9 million in home construction, and that sector of the economy has shown no signs of recovery.