Banana Republic hopes to stay |

Banana Republic hopes to stay

Banana Republic is seeking new quarters in which to set up shop in Aspen when its lease at the Independence Building expires in late 2003, according to the store’s current landlord.The clothing retailer intends to keep its Aspen presence, said commercial landlord Tony Mazza, who is already working with Banana Republic’s head of real estate to find the store a new locale.”Banana Republic is not leaving town, period,” Mazza said. “They don’t want to leave town. They have every intention of staying. Every broker in town is dealing with them right now.”Banana Republic is owned by Gap Inc., which also owns The Gap and Old Navy stores. The chain has indicated The Gap in Aspen will continue doing business, added Mazza, who does not own The Gap building.Mazza, along with M&W Properties partner Frank Woods, is a majority owner in the historic Independence Building, where the Banana Republic operates. Mazza refuted assertions made last week by a handful of local merchants who blamed greedy landlords for the influx of Rodeo Drive-style chain stores that are pushing out small boutiques.Although Banana Republic is no small boutique, its current space will be taken over by three Gucci-owned shops – Boucheron, Yves Saint Laurent and Boutega Veneta, Mazza confirmed.Banana Republic’s 10-year lease at the corner of Galena Street and Cooper Avenue expires in November 2003. M&W approached the retailer two years ago about extending the lease; Banana Republic elected to let it expire, he said.Then, downtown commercial landlord Harley Baldwin approached M&W about leasing the space to the three high-end boutiques. Gucci already operates out of one of Baldwin’s buildings. It was only after M&W had committed to a lease with the new tenants that Banana Republic expressed interest in renewing its lease, according to Mazza.Banana Republic even offered to match what the new tenants will pay for the 7,800 square feet of space at the start of the new 10-year lease, he said.If all of the businesses can be accommodated in downtown Aspen, the resort comes out ahead, Mazza reasoned.”I personally looked at this as an absolute win-win,” said Mazza, who took offense at the jabs delivered by several longtime businesses in an advertisement published in The Aspen Times last week.”This is just a cheap shot. It causes more divisiveness in the community,” he said.The ad, placed by 10 businesses in the Ute City and Aspen Block buildings, commend their landlord, Jim Cox, for “sticking to his ideals about what Aspen should be” and “trying to help us keep the small local shop alive.””Many other landlords in Aspen are not only filling their pockets but changing the entire climate of what Aspen is becoming. Gone are the `small boutiques’ and in are the corporate chains that make us no different than Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive,” the ad continued.Banana Republic is a national chain, but it serves the local community, noted Lily Garfield, owner of the Cos Bar, which helped pay for the ad.”We realize some chain stores are town-serving for locals,” she said. “They serve a function here.”That wasn’t Garfield’s viewpoint when Banana Republic came to town, countered Mazza, noting her oft-stated opposition to letting chains take up large retail spaces in Aspen.”We were vilified for bringing in big corporate tenants and then when they leave, [people] don’t want them to leave and we’re vilified by the likes of Lily Garfield,” Mazza said.Garfield has lobbied for further restricting the amount of square footage in which a downtown retailer can operate to discourage large chain stores and level the playing field for merchants.However, if Banana Republic remains in Aspen, “that would be great,” she said.Aspen recently lost another clothing store that catered to residents when Eddie Bauer closed its doors, fueling speculation that the affordable retailer had been pushed out by escalating rents in the M&W building where it had operated for a decade.Not so, according to Mazza. Eddie Bauer’s corporate headquarters notified M&W that it didn’t want to extend the store’s lease before any discussions about new rents even took place, he said.”Not only did they notify us, they begged us to let them get out of their lease years ago, because they weren’t doing enough business,” Mazza said. “Could we have kept Eddie Bauer? Categorically, no.”Eddie Bauer was paying $55 per square foot for its 6,500 square feet, plus “triple-net” costs, which include property taxes, insurance and utilities, he said.The space has now been leased to Grand Aspen Lodging LLC for three years. Mazza has expressed hope that the location will convert back to a retail use when the new tenant is done selling real estate there – time shares at the planned new Hyatt Grand Aspen.The cost of property taxes on the ground floor of the Banana Republic space, he noted as an aside, is $10 per square foot. “My rents in Carbondale aren’t $10 a square foot,” Mazza said.

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