Aspen developer explores hotel, housing in downtown Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Aspen developer explores hotel, housing in downtown Basalt

Members of the Downtown Area Advisory Committee in Basalt went through a planning exercise Thursday designed to come up with ideas for revitilizing the town.

A major Aspen developer could play a key role in igniting a revitalization of downtown Basalt sought by many of the town's residents.

Lowe Enterprises has signed an agreement to pursue development possibilities on about 2.6 acres of prime vacant ground owned by the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., representatives of the two firms announced Thursday. The developer is ready to start crunching numbers to see what kind of project would work on the former site of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, said Lowe Enterprise President James DeFrancia, of Aspen.

Retail and commercial spaces aren't being contemplated, he told the Downtown Area Advisory Committee, a group of town residents appointed by the Town Council to recommend a development plan. Instead, Lowe Enterprises will explore a mix of housing and a "boutique hotel," DeFrancia said.

The Community Development Corp. teamed with the Basalt town government to purchase 5.28 acres of property between Two Rivers Road and the Roaring Fork River near the heart of Basalt in 2011. The town is converting its half of the site into a riverfront park. The Community Development Corp. has been contemplating what to do with its half, closest to Two Rivers Road. Michael McVoy, president of the nonprofit, said a consultant working with his organization brought the Community Development Corp. and Lowe Enterprises together recently.

DeFrancia said Lowe Enterprises is heavily engaged in resort development and lodging, so it was interested in the possibilities in Basalt. Lowe Enterprises is affiliated with several projects in Aspen and Snowmass Village, either as a developer or as a manager. It designed, built and managed The Gant Condominiums for more than 40 years. It developed Ute Place, and it developed and sold W/J Ranch in Woody Creek for Lehman Bros.

Lowe Enterprises also manages eight tourist accommodations in Snowmass Village, including Top of the Village and the Stonebridge Inn.

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The company also was appointed as receiver for Snowmass Base Village and Dancing Bear projects when lenders foreclosed on other developers at the height of the recession.

"We're delighted to be associated with (the Community Development Corp.)," DeFrancia said.

One factor that makes a boutique hotel attractive, DeFrancia said, is the Rocky Mountain Institute's construction of an office building and so-called Innovation Center next to the Community Development Corp.'s property. That center is expected to attract the Rocky Mountain Institute's clients from around the world to study renewable-energy and energy-efficiency issues. That creates the demand a hotel would need to thrive, he said.

McVoy said there is no timetable for submitting a development application. His organization and Lowe Enterprises wanted to alert the planning committee about their intent. They would like to be involved with planning of their site so that realistic expectations are produced on what can happen, he said.

In fact, the Community Development Corp. and four other owners of major downtown Basalt properties submitted a letter to the Downtown Area Advisory Committee on Thursday alerting them that any plans they come up with must be fiscally viable. The planning committee is supposed to turn in a recommendation to the Basalt Town Council late this year or early next year.

McVoy read a letter on behalf of all five owners of the property, which included two sections of the old Clark's Market building, the Aspenalt Lodge and Cassie's Corner gas station and convenience store.

"We share a concern that the committee's deliberations are not including the owners of the properties and our separate and unique plans and goals for our respective parcels," McVoy read from the letter.

"We also share a belief that any potential future uses of our properties cannot be determined without factoring in the economic realities of what it takes to plan, finance and build a development," the letter continued. "The process that began with the 'Our Town Community Discussions' seems to come with an assumption that 'if we want it and design it, it will be built.'"

The owners' letter concluded by urging the committee to focus on desired uses of their property rather than site-specific designs of buildings.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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