Aspen gov’t still grappling with basement to nowhere
City of Aspen officials are re-examining their options on how to get a vacant space meant for an affordable restaurant filled now that it’s been more than eight years with no tenant.
Aspen City Council discussed the 1,600-square-foot basement space located at 508 E. Cooper Ave. during an executive session earlier this month.
It’s never been occupied since the building was redeveloped in 2012 into a two-story penthouse and a street-level retail store that currently houses high-end clothier Bruno Cucinelli.
Monthly rent of the basement space is capped at $50 per square foot with standard annual increases, and there are price restrictions on any future menus, according to a settlement agreement between the city and the building’s owners.
Developers sued the city in 2007 after council denied their request to subdivide the property into separate condominium interests.
The two sides came to a settlement in 2008, allowing for redevelopment based on the condition that a deed restriction keep the basement affordable.
But the settlement agreement didn’t contemplate the estimated $1 million needed to finish the space, which has kept potential tenants away from turning it into a restaurant.
Current council members acknowledge that it was a bad deal for the city.
“It’s a losing proposition for our community at this point,” Mayor Torre said. “The owner or landlord has the opportunity to fulfill the spirit of that agreement.”
The owners of the building, Cooper Street Development LLC, which is controlled by such Aspen investors as Andy Hecht, his son, Nikos Hecht, Ron Garfield and Joshua Saslove, have tried to work with the city over the years to find a tenant.
Lex Tarumianz, of Pyramid Property Advisors, represents the ownership group as the commercial broker and has been working to fill the space for several years.
“We are trying to work something out and talking with the city to find some resolution with it,” he said, adding that the ownership group continues to have to pay the expenses on the space, including dues, insurance and utilities.
The group sold the penthouse in 2015 for $13.2 million.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein said it’s an unfair situation.
“When they got it approved they got a lot for that and what the community got out of it is an empty basement,” he said. “It serves the community best to see that space activated.”
For decades, the building was home to Cooper Street Pier, a two-story dive tavern and the popular Lucci’s Italian restaurant in the subground space. Other tenants, such as Bad Billy’s on the first two floors and a basement-level Thai restaurant, later occupied the building and closed permanently in 2011.
But that action never happened or was followed up on, according to City Attorney Jim True.
Torre said it’s a shame that the space sits empty.
“We don’t know how to go about it,” he said.
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One of downtown Aspen’s oldest restaurants and a local’s favorite will close for good on Nov. 5, according to social media posts.