Aspen close to deal that would save the Given Institute
November 9, 2010
ASPEN – The city of Aspen has entered into final negotiations over the Given Institute with a company that is proposing to retain the main building, while dividing the site to possibly allow for three single-family homes.
The long-private negotiations behind a sale of the property became public Monday night as City Attorney John Worcester told City Council that a final deal is in the works.
S.C. Acquisitions, a recently founded limited liability company created by the developers’ lawyer, Bart Johnson, is looking to buy the property from the University of Colorado’s medical school and divide it into four separate lots.
The pending agreement gives Aspen officials, CU and the developers a focal point in the five-month negotiation in which the city has tried multiple different ways to preserve the building; the most recent move was an announcement of a pending emergency order to rezone the property for academic uses only.
That rezoning would have prohibited any owner from building a single-family home on the property, which overlooks Hallam Lake from 100 East Francis St., essentially devaluing it.
The City Council voted down that ordinance Monday night.
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The proposal looks to keep the Given building, deemed by many in Aspen as historically significant, intact.
“My client would like it to be preserved,” Johnson said.
The city has met frequently over the last few months with potential buyers in executive session to establish a deal that would honor the city’s desire to keep the Given Institute, as well as the buyers’ desire to turn a profit.
No official deal has been made, and the subdivision is subject to change.
“It’s really in its infancy,” said Mitch Haas, a planning consultant on the proposed development.
Two of the lots would be behind the Given building, to the north, and one would be to the western side.
Subdivision of the property would go through the normal public comment process for land-use applications and then onto the City Council. According to the current plan, the lots, at a half-acre each, would be much larger than a typical West End lot.
Councilman Torre asked for more space for the lot on which the Given would remain, saying he wanted to ensure plenty of “breathing room” for any nonprofits that would use the facility.
Torre said the current plan would “make it very difficult for nonprofit use.”
Monday night after the council’s discussion, Johnson said that he could not yet disclose the names of the people behind S.C. Acquisitions, but offered assurance that they have a good reputation as developers.
“There are no half-built projects that they left,” Johnson said, noting that his clients have experience developing projects in Aspen.
The buyers are negotiating a purchase price with CU. The medical school’s spokesman, Dan Meyers, said Monday night that the LLC has offered a little less than $15 million.
The company is giving the city the option to rent the building for $1 for the first year after the as-yet official purchase, and to possibly buy it during or at the end of that term for the preliminary price of $3.75 million.
The university has said it may want to continue some of its activities in the building, according to Worcester.
If that time passes without the city purchasing the building, the LLC would retain the right to turn the Given into a single-family home.
But Johnson said his client was unlikely to do that. The buyer is committed to preserving an academic or nonprofit use for the building, he said. CU has used the Given for nearly four decades as a forum for medical science conferences.
The City Council also decided Monday night to extend until Jan. 11 negotiations to get the property designated as a historic landmark. It has been negotiating with the university since the beginning of the debate over the building’s preservation, and had extended those talks twice before Monday night.
The university has been trying to sell the Given Institute for the past five months because it can no longer afford the operating price tag, which can exceed $200,000 a year. CU officials cite lower state funding in their move to sell the property.
The buyer wants the city to commit to paying for the building during the year in which the city rents it.
If the city doesn’t use the building initially, it will cost much less to operate, said Steve Miller, the city’s capital asset director, during Monday’s council meeting.
“To mothball it, it’s more like $20,000 to $30,000,” Miller estimated.