Basalt reaps $609,100 for Willits real estate sale |

Basalt reaps $609,100 for Willits real estate sale

The core of Willits Town Center is built out, but blocks 3, 4, and 9 to the left are undeveloped, as is block 11 in the left center. The building on block 7 is under construction as retail and affordable housing units.
Courtesy image |

The town of Basalt collected a check Friday for $609,100 from a real estate transfer assessment on the $30.46 million sale at Willits Town Center earlier in the week.

A title insurance company wrote the check, so it’s unclear if the fee was paid by The Kroenke Group or Mariner Real Estate Management. The Kroenke Group bought the Whole Foods and Starbucks buildings from Mariner.

The town has two separate 1 percent Real Estate Transfer Assessments on sales at Willits. The revenue raised have restricted uses, according to Assistant Town Manager and Chief Financial Officer Judi Tippetts.

At least 50 percent of the funds from the first assessment fee must be used to build, maintain and provide an endowment for an arts or cultural center. No more than 50 percent can be used on other, broadly defined public amenities for Willits.

The second assessment is restricted entirely to street improvements. It was the fund the town tapped to help build the roundabout at Willits Lane and Valley Road.

While the funds are restricted, they are a boon to the town because it doesn’t have to dip into its general fund for most projects in Willits Town Center and the Willits residential neighborhood.

An arts organization is working on a plan to build a facility in Willits Town Center.

Tenants had advance word

The transaction wasn’t a surprise to tenants in the two buildings that were sold. A representative of Mariner told them in February that the sale was a possibility, though the buyer wasn’t identified.

Mariner bought distressed properties during the recession and now is developing many of them. The real estate investment company didn’t intend to manage Willits Town Center long-term.

“They made that clear from the beginning,” said Don Edmonds, who owns Bristlecone Mountain Sports with his wife, Sue. The sporting-goods and clothing store is in the Whole Foods building.

Scott Picard, owner of Sure Thing, a restaurant in the Starbucks building, said Mariner “did its job” as a “rescue developer.” The company bought Willits Town Center after the prior developer ran into financial troubles during the recession. The Whole Foods building was a hole in the ground at the time.

“I get that development is a business — buy, build, sell,” Picard said.

The Kroenke Group has a property management arm and a track record of “weathering the storm” with its projects when the economy slips, he said.

“That could be very good for the town,” Picard said.

Long-term leases

Both business owners said they couldn’t foresee how the change in ownership will affect them, other than possibly bring differences in approaches to managing the property. Both businesses have long-term leases. Picard said he has a 10-year lease with two five-year options. Edmonds said he is in a seven-year lease with two seven-year options.

Picard said he believes that Kroenke’s group carefully investigated the business and political climate of Basalt before buying. This isn’t Kroenke’s first foray into the valley. The company purchased the Crystal Village Plaza in Carbondale in fall 2014. That complex is the current home of Ace Hardware and City Market, which has plans to relocate.

Picard said he was personally appreciative that in January the Town Council in a 4-3 vote rejected Mariner’s request to share sales tax revenue with the town and implement a public investment fee on purchases in Willits. Mariner sought approval of the funding mechanisms to speed development of the remainder of the project. Some council members were too hasty to approve the proposal, Picard said. Mariner has approvals for 591,000 square feet of commercial and free market residential space. About half is completed.

Mariner co-president Ryan Anderson didn’t return telephone and email messages from The Aspen Times on Thursday or Friday to discuss his company’s plan. It is unknown if Mariner intends to develop the rest of the project or sell.

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