City officials are considering lifting lease restrictions for an affordable restaurant space that has sat vacant on Cooper Avenue for the past two years.
Located at 508 E. Cooper Ave., the 1,591-square-foot space is part of a redeveloped building owned by Cooper Street Owners — a group of limited-liability companies controlled in part by Aspen businessmen Ron Garfield and Nikos Hecht. The lot on which it sits was previously occupied by local watering holes Cooper Street Pier and Bad Billy’s.
In November 2007, the city denied the request of Cooper Street Owners to subdivide the property into separate condominium interests. A month later, the owners filed a complaint in Pitkin County District Court alleging that the city exceeded its jurisdiction and abused its discretion in denying the redevelopment request.
The two sides settled in August 2008, allowing for redevelopment based on two conditions. The owners provided a cash-in-lieu affordable-housing payment of $309,710 to the city, and the lease for the rental space carried a cap of $50 per square foot, with annual increases.
A major deterrent for potential restaurateurs is the estimated $1 million in buildout for the basement space, including kitchen equipment, seating and lighting. Above the basement is a ground-level retail unit and above that a penthouse that spans two floors.
In June, the city tried to drum up interest from potential renters by purchasing local advertisements, partnering with commercial broker Lex Tarumianz, of Pyramid Property Advisors. But those efforts have produced little response.
Aspen Community Development Director Chris Bendon said the few who have approached Tarumianz have shown interest in opening retail operations.
“There were questions about other uses but essentially no interest in doing a restaurant,” Bendon said.
On Sept. 16, Bendon will present the council with a few options to consider during a work session. They include keeping the restriction in place and continuing advertising efforts, altering the affordable-lease rates, reconsidering allowable uses or lifting the restrictions entirely.
In the past, Bendon has said that at some point the city will have to decide if any tenant is better than no tenant.
Garfield & Hecht representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.