Mark Hunt tenants in prominent Aspen buildings play waiting game
Developer who bought $100 million in local properties has redevelopment approvals
July 28, 2017
Near the cash register at the Kemo Sabe Western-wear store in downtown Aspen, a large digital clock counts down the days, showing just over 65 remaining from Thursday until a pivotal moment for the 26-year-old retail establishment.
It's not a countdown for a clearance sale or a Denver Broncos game. The clock instead signals how may days until Kemo Sabe will relocate nearby to the Wheeler Block Building on Galena Street.
While Kemo Sabe is certain of its future, other retailers in the Mark Hunt-owned Bidwell Building, located at the corner of Cooper Avenue and Galena Street, are not.
The same can be said for tenants at Buckhorn Arms Building on Cooper Avenue, the old Crystal Palace building on Hyman Avenue, the Popcorn Wagon and the two restaurants next to it on Hyman Avenue, and the Conoco service station on East Main Street.
Hunt has received clearance from the city to redevelop all of the properties but he has yet to apply for a building permit on any of them, according to the city's Community Development Department, meaning the timetables for the redevelopment projects are fluid for now.
Hunt, who is from Chicago and now lives in Denver, did not respond to email and telephone messages this week seeking comment for this story.
Recommended Stories For You
Kemo Sabe, as well as one of its upstairs neighbors in the Bidwell Building, Re/Max Premier Properties, which is relocating to 400 E. Main St., have their futures secured with other spots.
Wendy Kunkle, the manager of Kemo Sabe, the flagship Aspen store that is owned by Tom and Nancy Yoder — also the proprietors of Kemo Sabe stores in Vail and Las Vegas — said they actually are looking forward to the move.
"This (Bidwell Building) is just not a great building," Kunkle said.
Other Bidwell tenants, such as Ryno's Pub & Pizzeria, are taking a wait-and-see approach before they pull up their roots.
"Where would I go?" said Ryan Sweeney, who has run the basement-level bar and restaurant for 15 years. "There's nothing available. Most of these affordable restaurant spaces are getting snatched up and redeveloped."
Sweeney said he likes the chances for Ryno's to remain open through the upcoming ski season.
That's because Hunt has a number of projects in the pipeline, and Sweeney theorized the Bidwell project isn't high on his list of redevelopment priorities.
"I've got a 90-day termination right now (in the lease), so if I got that now, I would have to leave in October," he said, noting when he first signed the lease for Ryno's, it was for 16 months.
Sweeney called his place — which has old-school arcade games and caters to families and locals — as one of the "less pretentious" places in town.
The same could be said for Bamboo Bear restaurant, which serves Vietnamese food from the very ramshackle spot where Johnny McGuire's Deli operated for years. Bamboo is located in the Buckhorn Arms Building, which Hunt plans to raze and replace with Base1 Lodge, where plans call for 40 guest rooms and an underground parking garage.
Owner Vinnie Bagford, who opened Bamboo Bear in June 2016, said he hopes Hunt finds space for him in the redeveloped property.
For now, Bamboo Bear will be open at least through March, Bagford said Thursday, noting he received a landlord letter a few days ago offering him an extension, which he said he will accept.
"This is just the perfect place for us," the former chef of Buttermilk's Cliffhouse restaurant said.
Located across from one of the busiest areas in town — City Market and its coveted parking lot — Bamboo Bear shares the front of the building with Domino's Pizza and Tulips Body Waxing Studio.
On the backside of the building is Sammy's Barber Shop, another place that doesn't break the bank of local consumers.
Owner Sammy Hewins, who has operated from the space for 131/2 years, said he trusts Hunt to secure his future tenancy somewhere in Aspen.
"Mark's been great to us," Hewins said, "and he's been great to his word."
The 300 block of East Hyman Avenue also has two Hunt spots eyed for development.
One is located at the intersection with Mill Street where the Popcorn Wagon, Grey Lady Aspen and Jimmy's Bodega restaurants are located.
"All things lead to us being here for the winter, for whatever reasons," said Bodega owner Jimmy Yeager. Yeager also owns Jimmy's An American Restaurant & Bar in Aspen. He opened the newer Bodega eatery four summers ago. Yeager said he would buy the building if Hunt would entertain an offer.
Hunt went on a buying binge in the mid-2010s in Aspen, gobbling up more than $100 million in commercial properties.
Of all of the properties he owns, one has been redeveloped so far — the old Gap building on East Hopkins Avenue where tenants now include Aspen Kitchen and several upscale boutiques.
But Hunt is not as bullish as he once was on the Aspen market, where the development landscape has significantly changed after the Aspen City Council revamped its land-use code earlier this year. Last year also wasn't a boon for commercial development, which was stymied by the City Council's freeze on the filing of land-use application in commercial zone districts.
In September 2015, Hunt sold the building at 409 E. Hyman Ave, which is home to New York Pizza and the Green Dragon cannabis dispensary, for $5 million. More recently, in May he sold the Seguin Building, home to Aspen Brewing Co. and the Aspen Overeasy diner, for $6 million. And in January, Hunt's pending $35 million deal to buy the old Guido's Swiss Inn structure and its neighboring retail building at 447 E. Cooper Ave. collapsed.
"It was just really about taking too much risk," Hunt said at the time. "There were too many unknowns."
Hunt has the old Crystal Palace Building on Hyman Avenue slated for a boutique hotel.
Bootsy Bellows is consuming part of that spot for now, though operator Andrew Sandler said there's no telling how long the nightclub will remain there.
"For Mark and his tenants, there aren't any hard dates when things are happening," Sandler said. "If you look at the Grey Lady and Bodega, they were told last year they had one season left, and here they are again."
Sandler said he could empathize with Hunt and the hassles associated with locking down permits and other city requirements.
"The issue is, it's just very hard to navigate the landscape of Aspen," he said, adding that "Mark is a good guy, and he's not looking to screw anybody over."