Basalt project bucks dour economic trends | AspenTimes.com

Basalt project bucks dour economic trends

BASALT ” At a time when the national economic crisis has stalled construction projects and plundered property values, one midvalley development is bucking the trends.

Steve Crowley and his investors at Willits Bend are cranking away on construction of a second building that mixes light industrial and residential uses and they are contemplating breaking ground on a third building.

Willits Bend is located just off Willits Lane in Basalt, next to the Aspen-Basalt Campground and Mobile Home Park. It is approved for nine buildings and 84,000 square feet.

The project is eye-catching. The one completed building has a bright yellow metal skin and the one under construction will be royal blue. The color of all nine buildings will be vibrant. People either love ’em or hate ’em; nobody is neutral.

But really makes the project stand out is the activity level. It is one of the few private-sector projects of good size that hasn’t stalled in the midvalley. Willits Town Center and the Shadowrock luxury townhouses, projects located 2 miles from Willits Bend, have shut down activity for the foreseeable future. A public library is about the only construction in old-town Basalt.

“We’re not subject to the credit crunch that America is going through right now,” said Rob Tobias, who heads a team of investors working with Crowley on Willits Bend. The team has extensive experience in real estate and financing, so it didn’t enlist outside expertise and backing, he said.

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Financing alone isn’t enough to keep a project going in these days of slow sales. Crowley said the project attracts buyers because it is unique in the valley. He pitched the project from the start as a place to attract artisans and craftsmen. When he first unveiled the development plan in 2004, he said he wanted to build a project that would attract the type of working people who were being forced to migrate farther downvalley ” to New Castle, Silt and Rifle ” to find spaces that met their needs. Crowley, a high-end cabinet maker and wood worker, wanted to keep craftsmen such as himself in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“The fact that people can own their own space is huge,” Crowley said. Many artists and craftsmen realize the opportunity to buy their own piece of the rock is slipping away in the Roaring Fork Valley. “That’s why I always wanted to do the project as a ‘for sale’ one,” Crowley said. The sellers have financing packages available for buyers.

So far, 11 of 12 units in the yellow building have sold, each in the $400,000 range. The 1,000 square-foot units are stacked in two stories. Buyers can acquire more than one ” joining stacked or adjacent units. Realtor Wendy Lucas, who has the listing on the blue building, said she is writing contracts for sales there. The 12 units in the blue building are 900 square feet. Prices there range from the mid-$500,000s to mid-$600,000s.

“As a developer, you offer deals on the first building to get people in,” Lucas said. The higher prices in the second building have been maintained in these tough times because demand exists and the developers are “delivering a quality product,” Lucas said.

The buildings were designed by Glenn Rappaport of Black Shack Studio. They provide ideal work space for craftsmen and artists because of bay windows that function like garage doors, 16-foot ceilings and outdoor display space. Buyers customize the interiors.

The spaces were insulated well to keep down energy costs and the sound-proofing from one another and outdoor activity is incredible. Richard Duddy, an associate broker at Wendy Lucas and Co., closed the door to one of the units while a jackhammer was working outside to demonstrate that soundproofing. The construction noise was inaudible.

Buyers or renters so far include an opera singer, a former National Geographic photographer and a handful of artists in other mediums, a high-end plumber, metal workers and a high-end roofer. Rappaport bought a unit and relocated his architectural office there.

Tobias and Lucas envision the nine buildings approved by Eagle County at Willits Bend evolving as an artists’ enclave. When completed, Tobias believes the community will be an economic engine for the midvalley. The artists will draw tourists.

“You basically have a crafts fair 24-7,” he said.

Lucas said Willits Bend could be similar to Canyon Road in Santa Fe, an area where artisans congregated and fed off one another. “People want to be surrounded by like-minded people,” she said.

Tobias believes that Willits Bend will works because it has vision and direction, unlike many developments. The project is designed like a traditional main street, with the buildings set close to the roads. Pedestrian trails in the area tie it to the restaurants and shopping at Willits Town Center and Orchard Plaza as well as to the Rio Grande Trail, one of the most popular outdoor amenities in the valley.

“You could live here and work here and not even own a car,” said Tobias. “It is truly the definition of new urbanism.”

scondon@aspentimes.com

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