Aspen council gives a lift to Cooper Ave’s ‘basement to nowhere’ |

Aspen council gives a lift to Cooper Ave’s ‘basement to nowhere’

308 E. Cooper Ave.
Aspen Times file

Downtown Aspen’s basement to nowhere might be going somewhere after all.

Aspen City Council on Tuesday agreed to a lift a restriction on the basement space of 508 E. Cooper Ave. that required the location’s next restaurant to be open both for lunch and dinner.

“Basement space is not really conducive to lunch,” said Councilman John Doyle. “I would support this.”

In a 5-0 vote, the council passed a resolution to eliminate the hours-of-operation requirement of at least 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The resolution also removed a condition that the restaurant’s menu would be comparable to the prices at Bentley’s, which operated in the city-owned Wheeler Opera House but closed in 2011.

Still in effect, however, is that menu items are priced “within the lower one-third of the average price of food, excluding alcoholic beverages, of all of the restaurants in the City of Aspen.”

The issue was brought before the council after a restaurant operator approached the city about lifting the restrictions on hours of operations.

“They have reached agreements with the landlords, and the only impediment is the service period,” city attorney Jim True told the council.

The restrictive covenants were part of a settlement agreement the city reached with the Cooper Avenue building’s owners, who sued the city in 2007 after the council rejected their proposal to subdivide the property into condominium interests.

The compromise allowed the owners to redevelop the property, while the basement space would be used for a restaurant, bar or brewery and offer below-Aspen-market menu prices. Monthly rent was also capped at $50 per square foot under the agreement.

The building’s owners — a group including lawyer Andrew Hecht, his son Nikos, lawyer Ron Garfield and real-estate broker Joshua Saslove — redeveloped the property into a four-story building with a top-floor penthouse that sold for $13.2 million in 2015.

But, there was one major hang-up for would-be restaurant owners: An estimated $1 million was needed to finish the space. The group that wants to lease the space will be responsible for the build-out.

“This represents good work that staff has done and your taking on financial liabilities of outfitting that space to making it that restaurant we all want to go to,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said.

Also on Tuesday, City Council approved 5-0 Aspen Film’s purchase contract to acquire Isis Theatre. Aspen Film will acquire the movie house portion of the Isis Theatre building by paying off its $2.1 million debt obligation to the city, which had been financially tied to the property since 2007. Between the Isis and the Cooper basement, city leaders expressed relief those two issues might finally be off their plate.

“We’re putting to bed a couple of things that are hanging out a long time and to see Lucci’s to get occupied …. They were welcome agenda items, and I wish you guys all the luck in the world,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein.

High-end retailer Brunello Cucinelli takes up the ground-level floor in at the very address that Cooper Street Pier dive bar operated from and where the Italian restaurant Lucci’s operated below. Cooper Street Pier closed in 2008 and Lucci’s in 2004.