Aspen, get set for Fat City Plaza |

Aspen, get set for Fat City Plaza

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Get ready, Aspen, Fat City Plaza is coming your way.

The phrase, an intentionally scathing nickname for Aspen, was first publicly championed by the late Gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson in the late 1960s and incorporated into Thompson’s bid to become the sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970.

And if things go as planned, it will now grace the entrance to a complex of shops occupying the space that once housed the Aspen Comedy Club. Peter Fornell, whose brother-in-law, John Cooper, owns the below-grade space on Cooper Avenue, said last week he is on track to remodel what once was a single restaurant space into five retail spaces ranging in size from 300 to 650 square feet.

The basement space for the past couple of decades traditionally has housed restaurants ” most recently Texas Red’s Barbecue ” many of which have been unsuccessful and short-lived.

According to articles about Fornell’s plans last spring, about 1,000 square feet was to be taken out of the equation for an atrium and entrance, leaving about 2,700 net leaseable space. Fornell said he planned to drop the space 2 feet lower to make the ceilings higher.

Fornell got his building permit last week, plans to pour concrete next week and will begin the process of framing in the individual spaces soon afterward, he said, with plans to have the various shops open by mid-February or March, 2009.

“Everything’s going well,” he said.

But for now, he continued, he is not signing any leases until he knows what the final costs are for the remodeling project.

He has been in touch with prospective tenants, and said he has a few lined up that have shown definite interest.

“The Apple store fell out,” he said, referring to early indications that a California friend who owns a store selling Macintosh computer products was interested in taking one of the Fat City Plaza spaces. But after running the financial numbers, Fornell said, his friend decided it would not work.

At this point, Fornell said, he has been talking with the owners of Kenichi’s sushi restaurant about opening up a noodle bar, featuring Japanese style noodle dishes mostly meant for a walk-in/walk-out clientele.

Acknowledging the Kenichi owners also are talking with the owners of the former Cooper Street Pier about putting a noodle bar in that space, just a few doors down Cooper Avenue from Fat City Plaza, Fornell said he is still hopeful of closing a deal.

“They’re still going to be interested in doing what I have,” he said. “They’re only in Cooper Street until April,” while he has been talking with them about a 20-year lease.

In addition, he said, he is talking with a clothing retailer who would be selling informal wear from “a few lines they have … casual fashion, like you’d wear to Jimmy’s or the J-Bar, something like that.”

Other prospective tenants, he said, are the Aspen Artists Cooperative, which he hopes will move from its current location at the base of Aspen Highlands into his plaza, and a woman who makes custom leather gear such as western chaps and gloves.

“I know these people personally,” he said, explaining that he is offering lease rates of between $2,000 and $6,000 per month per space, depending on size. That is an increase from the amounts he was predicting last spring, when he said the spaces might rent from as low as $1,800 to as much as $4,200 a month, putting the square-footage rental rate in the mid-$70 range.

But he stressed that, until he knows what his final costs are for redeveloping the space, he cannot say exactly how much the rents will be.

As for his chosen name, Fornell said with obvious glee, “I think I’m gonna bring the Fat City name back to town, baby. Maybe we’ll bring back a little of the old, with a little of the new.”

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