Basalt: Work could resume at Willits project by July | AspenTimes.com

Basalt: Work could resume at Willits project by July

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

BASALT -Construction at the Willits Town Center project in Basalt – stalled since Labor Day 2008 – could resume as soon as next month, according to Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane.The new owner of the project, Mariner Real Estate Management, has indicated in meetings with town government officials that it will seek a building permit to resume construction on what was once known as the Whole Foods Market building.”They’re moving ahead pretty aggressively,” Kane said. “We anticipate a building permit application in the next week or so.”He added that Mariner appears to be in a position to meet its stated goal of getting work under way in early July.Mariner purchased a major portion of Willits Town Center last month from Bank of America. It gained control of other portions of the massive project by acquiring the loan note Bank of America held on the property.The former owner and developer of the project, Joseph Freed & Associates (JFA), lost control of the project in a foreclosure action. JFA ran out of funding at the start of the recession. The company poured the concrete foundation and completed much of the infrastructure of the Whole Foods building.Kane said Mariner’s team inspected the concrete and structural steel that was stored at the site but never erected. Both the concrete and the steel maintained their integrity and can be used, he said.Ryan Anderson of Kansas City-based Mariner didn’t return telephone messages from The Aspen Times seeking comment. At the time of the sale, Anderson said the company’s priorities were to resolve nearly $8 million in mechanics liens filed by the contractor and sub-contractors on the project, and resume talks with Whole Foods Market to sign the natural grocer as an anchor tenant. The status of the talks with Whole Foods are unknown.The building design includes a 25,000-square-foot space for the natural grocer or another anchor tenant.Kane was upbeat about the prospects of the project getting going again. “Things look encouraging on this front,” he wrote in a report to the Town Council.Kane said Mariner has informed town officials it has selected R.J. Griffin and Co. as its general contractor. That company is a member of the J.E. Dunn Construction Group, an industry giant with 18 offices in the U.S., including Denver and Colorado Springs.Three construction-management trailers owned by the former contractor, Clayco, were pulled off the Willits Town Center site this week. R.J. Griffin and Co. doesn’t appear to have a presence yet on the site.Mariner has vowed to spruce up the construction zone, according to Kane. Willits-area residents have been irritated for 2 1/2 years about the mounds of dirt, stacked construction materials and weeds in vacant lots. The town has pressed for clean-up, something JFA was reluctant to do as it was losing control of the project.Planning is also under way on the engineering and design of a roundabout at the intersection of Willits Lane and Valley Road. That intersection is the main entry to access both City Market to the west and Willits Town Center to the east. The roundabout must be completed by the time the Whole Foods building is finished, according to the land-use approvals. The town has pledged to chip in $500,000 to construct the roundabout. The funds will come from a real estate transfer assessment that has been in place for years at Willits, Kane said.scondon@aspentimes.com

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