Aspen council postpones decision on Wheeler restaurant lease |

Aspen council postpones decision on Wheeler restaurant lease

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council’s discussion on a lease for the group taking over the Wheeler Opera House restaurant space was continued during Monday’s regular meeting because of various questions raised by council members and others.

In March by a 3-1 vote, following a competitive application process, the council decided to award a five-year lease to Fiercely Local LLC, whose owners operate Specialty Foods of Aspen/The Cheese Shop on East Hopkins Avenue. The lease has not been finalized. The council is expected to revisit the matter Tuesday at a 4 p.m. special meeting, just prior to a scheduled work session on the Aspen Area Community Plan.

Following renovations to the Wheeler over the next six or seven months, Fiercely Local, represented by Michele Kiley and Marco Cingolani, is expected to open a bar and restaurant in the city-owned space currently occupied by Bentley’s at the corner of South Mill Street and East Hyman Avenue.

Demolition work in the Wheeler basement began recently. It is hoped that the $2 million worth of renovations to various sections of the building will be finished this fall so that the new eatery can open in time for the winter ski season.

The lease rate for Fiercely Local is listed as a base rent of $45 per square foot or $117,810 annually, which breaks down to $9,817.50 per month. The city also would receive 8 percent of gross sales after sales reach a certain break point. The new tenant can exercise an option for another five years following the initial lease term.

At Monday’s meeting, local restaurant owner Rob Ittner – who also is a Pitkin County commissioner, but was not speaking in that capacity – suggested that the council re-examine a clause in the contract relating to “affordability.” He said “affordability” needed to be defined in the contract instead of included as a vague reference. The city is requiring Fiercely Local to provide more affordable food and beverage items for its customers compared with the higher prices typically charged by upscale eateries in the area.

Other concerns were voiced. Councilman Torre said he was surprised that the owner of Bentley’s has decided to call it quits on June 7, leaving the space unoccupied during the usually busy Fourth of July festivities downtown. He said the city should double check with the owner to see if any arrangements, including reduced rent, could be made so that Bentley’s would stay open through the first week of July.

Councilman Derek Johnson and Mayor Mick Ireland questioned why a cap was being put into place on the amount of revenue the city can receive as part of the negotiated deal for 8 percent of gross revenue once sales reach a certain point. Johnson and Ireland noted that the extremely low rent offered by the city amounts to a subsidy, and there should be no such limitation on the partnership between Fiercely Local and local government.

A city official who was deemed the best source to answer such questions was ill and could not attend Monday’s meeting, leading to the council’s decision to continue the discussion to Tuesday.

In other business:

• No one from the public spoke during a hearing on an ordinance to approve supplemental appropriations to the 2011 budget. The appropriations included $2.47 million in new requests from various city departments. The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance.

• Ashley Cantrell of the Environmental Health Department provided an update on the program to promote Aspen tap water over commercial water bottled in plastic containers. The locations of three “filling stations,” where municipal water will be given away this summer, were identified: the East Cooper Avenue Mall area next to the Wagner Park restrooms; Connor Park near Aspen City Hall; and Rio Grande Park, where a fountain near the skateboard park will be replaced. The city plans to sell reusable containers around town to further advance the campaign of getting people not to drink water from plastic bottles, seen by many to be environmentally unfriendly because of their massive production volume. An “outreach and education campaign” on why the city is promoting tap over bottled water will accompany the giveaway.

• A would-be developer seeking reimbursement of city planning costs withdrew that request. SC Acquisitions LLC, which earlier this year sought to purchase the University of Colorado’s historically valued Given Institute property in Aspen’s West End, had wanted $8,697.50 in city Community Development Department fees returned. The company claimed it was “mislead and/or provided with bad advice” during the planning review, according to a memo from department director Chris Bendon to the council. Bendon disagreed with that assertion. No reason for the withdrawal surfaced during Monday’s meeting.

SC Acquisitions failed to win community, Planning and Zoning Commission or City Council support for its plans during public meetings in January and February, and decided not to exercise its option on the property. Local resident Jonathan Lewis ended up buying the 2.25-acre property from CU with the stipulation that the university tear down the Given building. It was demolished in mid-April despite protestations by some in the community who wanted to save the architecturally renowned structure.

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