Construction activity on upswing in Aspen |

Construction activity on upswing in Aspen

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Construction activity in Aspen is on the upswing, though it continues to lag well behind the frenetic, pre-recession pace that peaked in 2007.Hard hats, cranes and pickup trucks jammed with tools can be found in and around downtown Aspen these days, and there is more to come. The required informational signs posted in front of properties where development plans are headed for a city hearing have popped up throughout the core, thanks to a flurry of applications that came in advance of a clampdown on building heights.Overall permit activity in the city, through Aug. 6, is up slightly, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the latest report issued by the city’s Community Development Department. In all, 840 permits had been issued by that date this year – for commercial and residential construction and various mechanical projects – compared with 813 through the first week of August last year. The overall value of this year’s projects, though, is down a bit – $105.6 million this year compared with $120.4 million in 2011.By Wednesday, however, 199 residential permits worth $61.3 million had been logged by the city, according to a running tally the Community Development Department posts online at For all of 2011, the city recorded 289 residential permits, including remodeling projects and new construction, worth $50.3 million.”There is definitely construction going on,” said Stephen Kanipe, the city’s chief building official.The city puts construction projects into three categories, based on complexity, and complex residential building work is markedly up compared to last year.”The investment in residential construction is up some,” Kanipe said. “There have been what appears to me to be some higher-priced projects.”Permits for commercial projects in 2011 totaled 339, worth $84.6 million. So far this year (through Wednesday), commercial activity totaled 145 permits for projects worth a total of $44.9 million.Often though, the permit data for an ongoing construction project isn’t reflected in the current year’s report. Expansion of Aspen Valley Hospital, for example, has been under way throughout this year, but the construction permits were issued a couple of years ago, when work began. The hospital’s phase 2 expansion is expected to wrap up in October, but plans for phase 3 will be submitted to the city soon.Other big commercial projects wrapping up in the downtown core include redevelopment of the former Stage III and Cooper Street Pier properties, while the extensive remodeling taking place at the Hotel Jerome began in August and is expected to finish in December.The city’s Building Department is keeping busy with plan reviews, according to Kanipe. Big projects still in the pipeline include construction of the new Aspen Art Museum and the Aspen Club redevelopment.”There’s no loss of things to do here,” Kanipe said. “We’ve got a lot of inspections, a lot of plan reviews.”There aren’t gloomy faces like there were three or four years ago when the bottom fell out and everybody felt it. Now it feels like we’re standing on firm ground.”Bill Poss, at Poss Architecture & Planning in Aspen, said he, too, has seen a boost in project interest, though not all of it has yet translated into actual work.”There has been quite a flurry of activity with people interviewing for architectural services – quite a bit more than in the last couple of years,” he said. “I think there’s an uptick. Most of the firms I talk with have work in the hopper.””We’ve seen a little bit of increased activity,” agreed Jennifer Olson, controller at Rowland+Broughton Architecture and Urban Design in Aspen. “In the last six months it seems like we’re getting straight cold calls.””Cold calls,” or unsolicited inquiries with architects, will hopefully translate to construction work next year, reasoned Steven Fotion, superintendent and building manager with DBJ Builders. He’s at work on a condo-building renovation at Cooper and Garmisch in Aspen.The project is Fotion’s first biggie in four years, but construction activity in general is showing hints of gaining steam, he said.”It’s moving, but it’s still kind of pokey,” Fotion said.In unincorporated Pitkin County, where residential construction makes up most of the activity, chief building official Brian Pawl said he expects 2012 to simply keep pace with last year.”While 2011 wasn’t a banner year, we’re not falling off that pace,” he said.For the first half of 2012, residential permits were up slightly compared with the same period last year – 43 permits versus 39 – but the overall value of the projects this year stood at $30 million, compared with $39.4 million last year, Pawl said.Non-residential projects are up in the unincorporated parts of the county. In the first half of the year, 25 permits worth $15.2 million in construction were issued, compared with 21 permits worth $6.2 million in the first half of 2011. Pawl credited redevelopment of the Aspen Music Festival and School/Aspen Country Day School campus and bus-station construction the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has undertaken for this year’s boost in non-residential

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