Commercial glut poses threat to Basalt’s small-town charm | AspenTimes.com

Commercial glut poses threat to Basalt’s small-town charm

Basalt’s image as a quiet little town appears to be on the brink of disappearing in a glut of commercial development.

Three projects that have already been approved and another that is on the table would add more commercial development than consultants recently predicted Basalt could absorb throughout this decade.

The four projects would add about 371,000 square feet to the downtown core and Willits town center near El Jebel, according to the town government’s and developers’ figures.

An April 2000 study performed for the town by a company called Economic and Planning Systems forecast that demand would warrant development of between 233,000 and 310,000 square feet of space.

The potential glut presents an interesting dilemma for town leaders. They are trying to create a vibrant downtown with enough critical mass of people to support businesses while, at the same time, preserving Basalt’s small-town charm.

@ATD Sub heds:Down the pike

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@ATD body copy: The four projects that are providing the supply of commercial property are Bob Ritchie’s Riverside Plaza; Frieda Wallison and Caddis Fly Partners’ Riverwalk; the Willits town center, being developed by Michael Lipkin, Paul Adams and Clay Crossland; and the Midland Addition project also proposed by Lipkin, Adams and Crossland.

About 31,000 square feet of space for retail shops, restaurants and offices have been developed at Riverside Plaza, at the intersection of Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road. Ritchie broke ground this spring on a third commercial building that would add about 9,000 square feet.

Construction is also under way on Wallison’s Riverwalk project on the eastern end of Midland Avenue, across the street from St. Vincent Catholic Church. That project is slated to add about 14,500 square feet of restaurant and retail space along with 10,500 square feet of office space.

Ritchie has leased about a third of his completed space at about $30 per square foot. Wallison is trying to sell condominiumized space in her project.

Across town in what is referred to as Basalt West, the Willits developers continue to move massive piles of dirt but haven’t broken ground on any buildings.

Approvals for the town would allow roughly 202,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 70,000 square feet of office space. Those numbers could be adjusted according to market demand.

Although the Willits developers haven’t progressed yet with construction on that project, they are pressing the town for approval of another project between the Basalt post office and skateboard park. That project, Midland Addition, would include 27,265 square feet of commercial space.

The Basalt Town Council is currently reviewing that application.

@ATD Sub heds:But wait, there’s more

@ATD body copy: More development projects may be added to that list and the town government itself might contribute.

The council has stated its intention to redevelop half of the Levinson property. A mixed-use commercial and residential project is being contemplated, but not yet formally proposed, on the half of the property closest to Two Rivers Road.

The Levinson property is west of downtown, where Taqueria el Nopal is located. The town bought the six acres earlier this year and plans to preserve the half closest to the Roaring Fork River as open space.

Under the scenario being discussed, the town government would sell property to a developer and replenish its open space fund with the proceeds. The Levinson land is also being eyed as the site of a nature center for the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

The town has capped development at 60,000 square feet at the Levinson site, according to Mayor Rick Stevens.

He noted that Midland Addition and potential redevelopments of the Pan and Fork, and Roaring Fork Mobile Home Parks could add roughly 300,000 square feet of commercial space along or close to the river corridor. He suggested that the town staff assess whether that is an appropriate amount.

@ATD Sub heds:Reaching critical mass

@ATD body copy: Riverside Plaza developer Ritchie said he doesn’t view the amount of development as a glut. Basalt is just approaching the point where it has the critical mass necessary for a thriving commercial center, he said.

Ritchie is bullish on Basalt because of its geographic location. He believes it is in position to benefit from business throughout the valley due to its location in the center.

“Any business can work out of Basalt and serve the entire valley,” said Ritchie. Its status will only improve once the expansion of Highway 82 to four lanes is completed in a few years.

“When Basalt gets that space and businesses have critical mass, what’s going to happen to Carbondale?” Ritchie asked.

Ritchie said he is getting a steady stream of calls from potential renters of his space. In the not-so-distant future, he believes more professionals will switch their office to Basalt and other downvalley locations or open satellite offices. Rents and overhead are less downvalley and it is easier to find and retain employees, he said.

Even if Basalt adds significant commercial space, Ritchie predicted that rents will remain stable. The cost of land acquisition plus development requires rents to “push the $30 square foot envelope,” he said.

“All the landlords have deep pockets so they’re unlikely to show too much flexibility in the rental rates,” Ritchie said.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.]