Developer to buy Crystal Palace |

Developer to buy Crystal Palace

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

ASPEN With the pending sale of Aspen’s venerable dinner theater, the Crystal Palace on Hyman Avenue, it’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” as the rock band Queen once sang.But the man poised to buy the 51-year-old business, Greg Hills, said Wednesday, “We’d like to keep the Crystal Palace going in one way, shape or form.”Longtime Crystal Palace owner and impresario Mead Metcalf confirmed Wednesday that the business and the building are under contract for sale to Hills, a principal with the Austin Lawrence Partners development firm.

Metcalf, 75, said he had three bids on the property, including one by Snowmass Base Village developer Pat Smith, but that Hills’ bid of $15 million won.Hills said the deal on the adjacent Grand Finale building, currently the home of Gracy’s of Aspen, is due to close in the fall, and the deal on the historic Crystal Palace structure is scheduled to close in June 2008.The dinner theater and bar have become an Aspen institution, featuring the political wit, sarcasm and wisdom of Metcalf, and a zany troupe of players lampooning current affairs to music. Metcalf, who has been talking about retiring recently, continues to play piano for the productions and to sing his standard encore every night, “Peanut Butter on the Chin.”Metcalf, who started his business in the old Mother Lode building next door to the Palace, said the main reason for selling the business was, “We had a very poor winter.” He said business dropped by 20 percent in the 2006-07 ski season, compared to the year before.”It’s a different type of people [coming to Aspen now],” he said, “and the old people are all dying off … the people who have been my clients.”Reluctant to speak much about the sale at first, mainly because of concern that he had not formally told his employees about it, Metcalf nonetheless mentioned that another reason to sell is “what’s going on around town.” Next door, the old Mother Lode is under redevelopment, and kitty-corner across Hyman and Monarch, the old Limelite Lodge has been demolished.

“I must say that I’m getting to the point where maybe it’s time to leave town,” he said. “In some ways I think it’s probably time to get out of business. I’m not pleased with the way Aspen is going.”The main building (with seating for 200) houses the Palace stage and a bar on the other side, and it was constructed in 1890, he said. It had only 30 feet of street frontage. He later added the Grand Finale.Speaking wistfully of his years in business, Metcalf pointed to the chandeliers and stained glass windows that are a hallmark of the building, and which are not expected to go to Hills in the current configuration of the deal. He also noted that, if the sale is finalized, next ski season “I suppose will be our last winter.”The 2007 summer season opens formally Friday, with a special open-house performance Thursday, free to all comers.Hills said he has already spoken with the city’s planning and historic preservation departments, and is in the midst of working on his plans for the property.

One idea, he said, is to reincarnate the Crystal Palace dinner theater in a subgrade space, with a bar on the ground floor. He also said that “the employees have expressed interest in trying to keep it going,” although the details of any such arrangement have yet to be worked out.Hills alluded to his reputation around town as a reasonable developer, sensitive to historic issues and values.”I think we are known around town as trying to preserve stuff,” he declared, and added that he hopes to continue in that vein with the Crystal Palace.Hills and Austin Lawrence Partners took on redevelopment of the Conner cabins behind City Hall on Hopkins Avenue and the Christiana Lodge on Main Street.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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