Emma store to stay … for now | AspenTimes.com

Emma store to stay … for now

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” The Emma Store won’t fall ” yet.

In recent weeks, owner Owen Minney has been threatening to demolish the crumbling, historic red-brick building on his 12-acre property along Highway 82, between Basalt and El Jebel.

But at a special meeting with Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday in Aspen, Minney agreed to negotiations for county purchase of the land ” or some portion of it ” to save the historic structures.

“I’m not going to tear the buildings down,” Minney said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Instead, Minney agreed in principle to hash out terms with officials from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the Community Development Department over a handful of options ” including county purchase of the acre where the store buildings sit, purchase of the entire 12-acre parcel (home to both the historic Mather farmhouse and the store buildings), and subdivision of the land and a partial open-space purchase.

Minney said he has listed the 12-acre property for sale for $3.4 million but it has not sold, partly because of the liability of the deteriorating buildings on the land.

“All of the possibilities are costly, but if we value these historic structures, we’ll work through all the details,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, adding that any negotiation would have to be a “true negotiation” of offers and counter offers.

The biggest challenge, Minney said, is stabilizing structures that are shaking apart with each 18-wheeler roaring along Highway 82 (the buildings are just 12 feet from the road).

Minney said the structures won’t survive another winter, and estimates to stabilize them range from $100,000 to $1 million, he said.

County staffers suggested everything from applying for grants to tapping the county general fund or going to voters with a ballot initiative to fund the restoration.

Jonas Landes, a field representative of Colorado Preservations Inc., was on hand Tuesday to discuss grant options to stabilize the buildings.

The organization subsidizes preservation projects using state funds from gaming.

Landes said the grant application process is competitive, but stressed the store buildings are high on the list of endangered properties in a county with a strong track record of historic preservation.

The first step would be a historic structure assessment to determine the soundness of the building, Landes said.

Jim Markalunas, a former Aspen city councilman and city water superintendent, offered $1,000 to the project, and City Councilman Jack Johnson was present Tuesday (as a private citizen) to pledge his support for preserving the buildings.

Minney expressed some concern about what he worries could be a lengthy process, but agreed to meet with county Open Space and Trails director Dale Will and Lance Clarke, Pitkin County’s assistant director for community development, to begin negotiations.

Minney’s land is surrounded by open space, and Will said the purchase could be “a puzzle piece that we’d like.”

Commissioner Rachel Richards said the board has talked previously about a more far-reaching plan for historic preservation, noting the Emma store buildings are one of the few historic structures left to preserve.

But Richards was quick to point out that the land and structures do not have “endless value.”

Hatfield said he was “enthusiastically hesitant” about the proposed negotiations.

“I’m not sure if I’m willing to compete with the real estate market,” Hatfield said, adding that the county’s willingness to negotiate “shows that we have a concern for our history.”

Will said the negotiations are a top priority for open space and pledged “a thousand cups of coffee” for the bargaining table.

On March 25, the open space and trails board will meet with county commissioners and discuss some concrete options.

“I’m relieved,” Minney said.

He said he’s hoping for fair compensation for whatever land the county buys, adding that he’ll entertain any offers and hopes things move forward quickly.

“The last thing I want to see is those buildings come down.”