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Bentley’s in Aspen to stay in the family

ASPEN – The son of the late owner of Bentley’s at the Wheeler said last week he plans to keep the pub open and is negotiating a lease extension with the city of Aspen.

Robb Merritt, the son of Leroy Merritt, and the vice president of Maryland-based Merritt Properties LLC, said the company will continue to own Bentley’s.

“Our plans are to keep Bentleys open, we love it,” Merritt said. “We are attempting to work out an extension with the city.”

Assistant City Manager Randy Ready said officials are in negotiations with Merritt to extend the lease for another year. Bentley’s has been on an annual lease for the past two years while city officials contemplate an overhaul of the Wheeler Opera House and a possible expansion.

Regardless of whether a new master plan for the historic building is realized, officials plan to renovate the aging Bentley’s. In 2008, the plan was to shut down Bentley’s for a few months and replace the water utilities, soundproof the space from the rest of the Wheeler building, and replace the kitchen and bar equipment. That work was estimated to run between $225,000 and $300,000. It hasn’t been determined who will bear the cost of that renovation, but it could likely will be shared by the city and the business owner.

“The council has some decisions to make,” Ready said.

He added that the lease being negotiated will include a lower rent as a result of the market softening.

While Ready wouldn’t get specific because ongoing negotiations, he said the rent will be lower than what it was two years ago.

In 2008, Bentley’s paid a monthly rent of $10,310.36, plus a percentage of trash removal and the natural gas bill for 1,825 square feet. That equated to $68 per square foot for the bar and restaurant. Retail space in downtown Aspen on the free market averages around $75 a square foot.

Rent in city-owned buildings are artificially lowered in order to preserve the types of uses designed to offer essential services to the public and affordable places.

The revenue the city collects from Bentley’s rent goes to funding local arts and nonprofits, Ready said.

Leroy Merritt died Jan. 25 due to complications from cancer. He had owned Bentley’s since 1989, when he bought the business from Sirous Saghatoleslami, who originally opened the bar and restaurant in 1984.

The pub will continue to be managed by Keith Hatanaka, who has worked for the Merritts for the past 18 years.

csack@aspentimes.com


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