City becoming Daily News tenant
ASPEN An Aspen newspaper publisher is hoping that government can succeed where other businesses have failed.Dave Danforth, the Aspen Daily News publisher who started out with a single-sheet newspaper some 30 years ago and rose to become a landlord and publisher of newspapers in several states, is poised to lease a basement commercial space to the city.City staffers have recommended leasing the lower level of the City Plaza Building, located across Hopkins Avenue from City Hall and owned, in part, by Danforth, for the next five years.The rent starts at $15,000 a month, or $180,000 for the first year, and will increase annually thereafter to keep up with the Consumer Price Index, according to a draft lease agreement approved by the City Council on Monday night.The space will be used as “a new building department annex to provide permitting and plans review services,” according to a memo from Johannah Richards of the community development department.It also could be used for other city needs, and the lease “includes an opportunity to sublease a component of the space to Pitkin County,” according to Richards’ memo.The building is owned by 517 East Hopkins Avenue LLC, which is controlled by Danforth and his partner, Dan Martineau, who bought it in 2000 for $3.8 million, according to records on file with Pitkin County.The space in question is known locally as one of a couple of “black holes,” where commercial businesses start up and then die a quick death. This particular space has seen such diverse uses as restaurants (Andiamo’s, Carlos O’Brien’s, Guisseppe Wong’s and The Living Room), a gym (Bleeker Street Gym), and a used clothing consignment store (Gracy’s), among others.For Danforth, the building’s purchase represented a big jump from his start in the late 1970s as publisher of an upstart news-sheet challenging the local dominance of The Aspen Times weekly.Publishing a single-sheet flier, with small printing on both sides and square ads arrayed around the edges, Danforth also for a time was the Aspen correspondent for The Glenwood Post daily newspaper. In the early 1980s he took his paper to a new level, purchasing a used offset-web press that printed on regular newsprint.Danforth, reached by phone late Monday, said he and Martineau looked into the “black hole” phenomenon and discovered that “it wasn’t so much that it was the awkward space … or too much space … or high rents. It was that the prior landlord had a habit of leasing to start-up businesses that didn’t survive.”For start-up restaurants, for example, Danforth noted that “your primary assets are cash and booze, and they’re both pretty fungible [interchangeable with other commodities].” But resultant disputes among partners often kills a new businesses, Danforth maintained.He declined to say whether the rent from the city is more than he has gotten in the past, and admitted that the whole arrangement “made me uncomfortable at first … but I got over it.”He said the lease agreement will not affect the paper’s coverage of city issues, and thus poses no conflict of interest.According to the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office, the building was built in 1983 and currently has an “actual” value of $7.98 million, with an assessed valuation of just over $2 million.The city already has authorized funds for the rent and for the cost of remodeling the roughly 6,000 square-foot space.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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