Developer Mark Hunt puts Main Street lodge concept ‘on ice’
The Aspen Times
Developer Mark Hunt has put his Main Street lodge concept on hold, and he will wait to see what happens with his Cooper Avenue lodge concept at the Aspen City Council on Monday before revisiting it.
Hunt, who has amassed nearly $100 million in commercial investment in Aspen since 2010, announced his decision Thursday during a public appearance at bb’s kitchen. A packed room of residents posed various questions to the prominent developer about his 13 properties, and Aspen Business Luncheon organizer Todd Shaver moderated.
If approved, the two lodge proposals — Cooper Avenue’s Base1 and Main Street’s Base2 — would add 81 hostel-like rooms with rental rates around $150 and $200 a night. Hunt said the fate of Base1 will impact any decision on Base2, while adding that the alternative is to develop the Main Street site as a commercial property.
“I’m not saying no to it,” Hunt said of Base2. “Quite frankly, I got maybe a little too excited. I did two instead of one thinking I’ll do 80 rooms, which I thought would help move the needle a little bit. And, ironically enough, even though (affordable lodging) has been on Aspen’s to-do list since 1976, I think I’m maybe here too soon. … I think Base2 is bringing so much to the community, and I want the ability to be able to prove that and see if there’s a crack in the door to revisit it.”
Hunt has asked for a number of variances and fee waivers with the two proposals, and a major sticking point has been his request to forgo on-site parking requirements in favor of leasing spaces from the city at the Rio Grande Garage and the Benedict Commons.
“I am providing parking,” Hunt said. “I have enough belief in myself and other people in the community that I can find those (parking) spots.”
As proposed, Base2 would have replaced the Conoco gas station on Main Street with a 36-foot-tall, 18,700-square-foot lodge. Zoning allows for 32 feet in height and 7,500 square feet in cumulative floor area. Along with those two variances, Hunt requested that the city waive the requirement to provide 21 parking spaces, affordable-housing mitigation for 2.98 employees and about $90,000 in fee waivers.
At Base1, a 37.5-foot-tall lodge would replace the structure home to Johnny McGuire’s. The hotel would be within the commercial lodge’s 40-foot height limit while also just within code at 17,000 square feet. But Hunt is requesting that the city waive his requirement to provide 25 off-street parking spaces while also including a height variance from 39 feet to 43 feet to allow room for bathrooms. Hunt also is asking the city to waive affordable-housing mitigation requirements for 1.97 full-time employees and about $40,000 in impact fee waivers.
Base1 is scheduled for a public hearing before the council Monday.
During the discussion at bb’s, Hunt was asked if he plans to build more contemporary buildings like Aspen 1, his first scrap-and-replace project, which replaced the old Gap building. Hunt responded that each property will depend on the site, and he “went to great lengths” to make Aspen 1 as “old world” as possible.
Resident Michael Miracle asked Hunt how mindful he is of retail programming, claiming that high-end retailers urbanize Aspen. Theory and Dolce & Gabbana lease spaces at Aspen 1.
“How willing are you to program to people’s wants here?” Miracle asked. “I think that’s as big of an impact as the visual style.”
Hunt responded that if he only owned one building, it would be a different answer, but with a nearly 15-property portfolio, “I think you need to address them all.”
“I think you have the ability to merchandize,” he said. “With what you’re saying, I understand, but you can’t expect that at every location in town.”
Later in the conversation, Hunt said it’s not his intent to give existing tenants the boot. With the Gap, he said the national retailer chain reached the end of its lease and showed no interest in renewing. Hunt was then asked if the Gap left because the lease rates were not affordable, to which he responded that it’s possible.
One resident expressed concern about Hunt’s concentration of ownership and asked about the stability of the capital behind his investments.
“Is this all your money funding this?” Hunt was asked. “Are you acting as an investor on behalf of other people to which you have a fiduciary responsibility to produce a certain amount of return?”
“Listen, I can’t make any promises,” Hunt said. “I can tell you I’m here on my own behalf, and I’m not here on behalf of my investors.”
Hunt added that he is the principal investor and expressed confidence in his investments.
“We’re here for the long haul,” Hunt said. “People read the articles (in the newspaper) — here’s what’s happening, here’s why he’s doing it, here’s why he’s asking because he needs to get certain returns to the investors, and that’s just not true.”
Hunt also was asked about his waiver requests. He responded that it’s his philosophy that if Aspen wants affordable lodging, there needs to be a program that works.
“There is no subsidy for affordable lodging, which is why we haven’t seen one in 40 years,” Hunt said.
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