Aspen developers not sure what to do with abandoned property

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
The Boomerang Lodge on Hopkins Avenue in Aspen has been empty for more than a decade. A new ownership group wants to redevelop it into lodge rooms and condos.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

The ownership group behind the beleaguered Boomerang Lodge is plotting its next move now that the would-be buyers have withdrawn their proposal to redevelop the property.

Steve Stunda, the local representative behind FSP ABR LLC, said he plans to speak with his partners at Baltimore-based Alex Brown Realty this week to discuss what to do with their 27,000-square-foot parcel on West Hopkins Avenue.

They still have the property under contract with developers Marshall Tycher and Eric Witmondt, principals of ME Aspen Ventures One LLC. Last week, ME Aspen pulled their application that was in front of Aspen City Council to build a 36,000-square-foot building comprising free-market condos, rental suites and lodge units. Their land-use consultant, Chris Bendon, told council the project was not going to pencil out with the changes the city was requesting.

Bendon said Friday that doesn’t mean his clients are ready to walk away.

“They have a good relationship with the current owners,” he said. “I know those discussions are continuing and they are still interested in something.”

Stunda said he didn’t see the withdraw coming.

“It was pretty much a surprise,” he said.

Stunda’s group received approval in 2006 to build a four-story, 47-room lodge at 45,000 square feet, along with free-market condos, affordable housing and an underground parking garage. Those approvals remain and a building permit can be pulled in the next seven weeks before development rights go away.

But Stunda said last week that building a traditional lodge in this economic climate — let alone in Aspen — is a challenge.

“That doesn’t work in today’s market,” he said, adding the cost of pulling the building permit alone is around $850,000. He estimates it would be a $45 million project.

Having acquired the structure in 2005 from Charles Paterson, who built the 1950s-era lodge, along with an adjacent property, Stunda and his partners have been up against some serious hurdles, not the least of which was buying at the peak of the market. Financing dried up as they muddled through government red tape, then the recession hit and a different proposal was introduced: an all-affordable-housing project. But the neighbors opposed it, a lawsuit was levied and the proposal died. So did several iterations of lodges.

Seeing it languish in purgatory for the past 16 years, Stunda and his partners put it on the market.

“It’s been a death of 1,000 cuts,” he said, adding as a 50-year resident he was hoping to honor the Patersons’ legacy. “I’m heartbroken this has come about.”

Council members last week expressed the same kind of disappointment, and said they hope a lodge in some form is built there.