Developer: Bass Park perfect for private proposal | AspenTimes.com
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Developer: Bass Park perfect for private proposal

Janet Urquhart

Aspen’s Bass Park may be an ideal spot to repeat the process Pitkin County used to get a private developer to build affordable housing at the Pitkin Iron site.

At least that’s what Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board member Tim Semrau believes. Semrau’s firm, S and S Development, was chosen to develop Pitkin Iron near Woody Creek. He is now building 15 affordable housing units and four free-market homes on the Woody Creek property.

Semrau’s suggestion that Bass Park also be thrown open to proposals from private developers appeared to receive some nods of agreement from fellow Housing Board members during a discussion last week.

The board, reviewing a comparison of the cost of building the publicly built Snyder Park affordable housing project and Semrau’s Alpine Cottages housing development, segued into a debate on how to get affordable housing built without huge public subsidies.

Board members, who participated in a groundbreaking for the 11-unit Seventh and Main housing project shortly before they convened, had the costly nature of building housing fresh on their minds.

Construction of Seventh and Main will cost $2.1 million – $300,000 more than was estimated when the project was put out for bid. The total cost of the project, including design, fees and the land purchase, is $3.2 million.

The total public subsidy for the project, after revenue from the sale of the units and rental of a commercial space is factored in, is estimated at $1.9 million.

“At least let’s try other options to bring down these incredible subsidies,” said Semrau.

Bass Park, contends Semrau, is the perfect spot to try something other than the traditional bid process, which has produced few bidders and high prices for recent city projects of all sorts.

The city plans to ask voters in November to approve a new sales tax for open space. Proceeds would allow the city to keep Bass Park as a park. The city bought the parcel in 1999 for $3.4 million – mostly from housing funds.

If the open-space tax fails, city officials have said they will proceed with a housing project at the small park, located at Monarch Street and Hopkins Avenue.

Semrau believes the city should seek proposals from the private sector for its development and see what comes forth. The county took a similar approach at Pitkin Iron, a 39-acre parcel it bought for $1.4 million in 1990.

The county indicated it would be amenable to a mix of free-market and affordable housing on the land, but put no parameters on what developers could propose. Commissioners recognized free-market homes would be necessary to subsidize the affordable units.

Four development firms submitted proposals; Semrau’s was chosen. He then had to take it through the county approval process and buy the land for $1.4 million.

The developer assumes all of the risk, Semrau said. “`You have nothing to lose’ is the bottom line on it,” he told the Housing Board.

“If the open-space tax fails, the day after that at Bass Park, we could do this,” he said.


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