A `big box’ in Basalt’s future? | AspenTimes.com

A `big box’ in Basalt’s future?

The Basalt Town Council might have to swallow a big-box retailer if it grants final approval for 458,000 square feet of commercial space at the Willits project.

A consultant hired by the town to study the implications of Willits on the Basalt and midvalley economies told Town Council members Tuesday that a big box isn’t necessarily an inevitable piece of big commercial projects, but realistically it is often a key ingredient for success.

Consultant Walter Kieser, principal owner of Economic and Planning Systems Inc. of Berkeley, Calif. and Denver, strongly hinted that some Town Council members should shed their bias against national chain retailers for the sake of their town.

“You cannot have these absolute no’s and say you want a successful retail center. That won’t work,” Kieser said.

Although they catch a lot of flak, the simple truth is big boxes are popular with customers, Kieser noted.

“People will shop them,” he said. “They will travel big distances.”

That’s evident in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s an Aspen ritual to make the 40-mile run to “Wally World” – the Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs.

The attractiveness of a big box can be used to a town’s advantage. It can be the anchor that draws consumers to smaller independent or specialty stores – those often considered more desirable, Kieser said.

Kieser and his associate, Dan Guimond, have been hired for $30,000 to supply information that will help the council determine what will work. Their study will be finished in 60 to 90 days.

Just about every council member wants the study to determine whether a second commercial center at Willits, formerly known as Sopris Meadows, will destroy the downtown core or whether they can be “symbiotic.”

“I don’t want one to feed off the other,” said Councilman Steve Solomon.

The Willits project is located just upvalley from the El Jebel City Market in what’s referred to by town officials as West Basalt, though the name has never caught on with the public. The farthest points of Willits are nearly 4 miles from the heart of “old town” Basalt.

Councilwoman Tracy Bennett said she’s concerned about Willits’ impacts on the entire valley, not just Basalt. New stores, she said, might just “cannibalize” business from elsewhere in the valley.

“There’s so much commercial already approved,” said Bennett, herself a store owner in Basalt. “I think about oversaturation and things sitting empty.”

On the other hand, some council members were also concerned about Basalt getting its share of the sales-tax pie. Councilman Leroy Duroux said he doesn’t want to see Willits compete with downtown Basalt, but he’s also concerned about missing opportunities for sales in the town.

“The amount of dollars trickling down to Glenwood is huge,” Duroux said. “That’s my biggest concern – is put a plug in the leakage.”

The economic study is one of the final pieces of the puzzle the Town Council will use to determine a final position on the Willits project.

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