AVH looks for office space at Obermeyer | AspenTimes.com

AVH looks for office space at Obermeyer

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen Valley Hospital is interested in leasing 10,000 square feet of medical office space at Obermeyer Place if its developers are interested in building it.

The community task force that spent the better part of last year helping developers design the project reconvened Friday to digest this latest idea and give it their general blessing.

Task force members voiced no qualms with medical offices in the project, which is already envisioned as a mix of service-oriented business space, free-market and deed-restricted housing. In fact, doctors’ offices within walking distance of downtown Aspen was generally praised as a good idea.

But, several members wondered if developers really want to fiddle with a plan that went through multiple iterations and a lot of critical scrutiny before it finally won general community support.

“Once you get all the worms in the can and put the lid on it, to open that can and start looking at the worms again …,” said Pat Fallin, a task force member and resident of the neighboring Concept 600 building.

Chris Bendon, the city’s long-range planner, urged developers not to risk the tacit, hard-won community support the project finally enjoys. “If you can do it without jeopardizing that, great,” he said.

“I’m fine with it. I think it’s a great idea, actually,” said Marcia Goshorn, a member of the task force and the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board.

Obermeyer Place involves the redevelopment of a collection of buildings that border Rio Grande Place, Spring Street and East Bleeker Street, south of Rio Grande Park. It is currently home to several funky residences and an assortment of service/industrial businesses, including an auto repair shop, ski tuner, glass shop, gym, and pet groomer.

Klaus Obermeyer, who owns most of the buildings, including the most run-down ones, brought in two other private property owners and the city for a planning effort last year. The goal was to create a single redevelopment project that would represent a vast improvement over what they could do individually.

The plan that evolved – about 37,000 square feet of service/commercial/industrial space to replace what exists there now, plus 21 free-market units and 21 deed-restricted units – won conceptual approval from the City Council last October.

Developers are pushing to break ground in spring 2004, but when the medical office idea came up, they decided to check back with the task force, according to Tim Belinski, Obermeyer chief financial officer.

The Obermeyer team is content to build what has already been conceptually approved, but is intrigued enough to talk further with AVH, given the task force’s blessing, he said.

About 10,000 square feet on the second floor of a building that would face Rio Grande Place has been identified for the offices. Architects will look to somehow put the three free-market units that had been slated there elsewhere in the project, without increasing building heights, Belinski said.

“That space, admittedly, is not the real gem of the free-market space, but they’re better than the rents we’d see from these guys,” Belinski said, referring to AVH. Developers can’t simply drop three free-market condos – they’ll be needed to make the project work financially, he predicted.

The office space would replace condos that were going to overlook the county recycling center at the park, though, so the new plan works well in that respect, Belinski noted.

The medical office idea actually came from a private party who approached the Obermeyer team asking if the three free-market units could be purchased and converted for that use.

The developers have since engaged in preliminary talks with AVH administrators, who are interested in the proposal.

@ATD Sub heds:A quest for office space

@ATD body copy: The hospital has long sought office space for its growing staff of physicians who are affiliated with AVH, though they maintain practices in the city, according to Randy Middlebrook, the hospital’s CEO.

“We’ve had our feelers out for some period of time for a place where we could house our physicians’ office practices,” he told the task force.

To keep practitioners and internists here, the hospital has taken on a greater role in helping physicians with the challenges of running a business in Aspen, where staffing/housing issues and high rents create difficulties.

The hospital had to hire local pediatricians outright to keep them in Aspen, he said, and AVH now contracts with various other practitioners, handing their staffing and their office leases.

“Whether it’s this building or someplace else in town, there’s a necessity for us to find some economies of scale with a building in town,” Middlebrook said.

AVH bid unsuccessfully to buy an office building in town, Middlebrook said. Although it won approval from Pitkin County to build a medical office building on its campus, the cost of the housing the county demanded along with the building has made it impossible to build, he added.

Worker housing will be an issue for the city if medical office space is built at Obermeyer Place, according to Julie Ann Woods, the city’s director of community development.

The hospital purchased the former Beaumont Inn several years ago to house its employees. Perhaps it could count as the housing for the office space at Obermeyer, Belinski suggested.

“That’s probably a question that’s going to have to be addressed fairly quickly,” Woods said.

There are other issues that will need quick attention – how medical offices would affect traffic in the area of the development and how to provide additional parking for the offices, Belinski said.

The current plans for Obermeyer Place include a mix of underground and surface parking; the offices would probably generate a need for about 40 spaces that aren’t now in the plans, he said. A second level of underground parking may be necessary and must somehow be financed.

In preliminary discussions with AVH, developers have talked about a long-term lease for the office space, which would be zoned specifically for medical offices, according to Belinski.

“Bottom line, the economics have to work for both parties,” Middlebrook said.

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