Fiercely Local chosen for Aspen’s Wheeler restaurant space
ASPEN – Answers from a questionnaire sent last week to two finalists vying for the Wheeler Opera House restaurant lease failed to point to a clear-cut winner, but the Aspen City Council on Monday made a decision anyway.The group called Fiercely Local, operators of Specialty Foods of Aspen & The Cheese Shop on East Hopkins Avenue, won the support of Mayor Mick Ireland and councilmen Steve Skadron and Torre, gaining the necessary three votes. Derek Johnson stuck with CP Restaurant Group, which operates CP Burger, The Wild Fig and two other local eateries.Craig Cordts-Pearce, who with his wife Samantha owns and operates CP Restaurant Group, left Monday’s meeting in a hurry after Ireland indicated his support for Fiercely Local.”Everything happens for a reason,” Cordts-Pearce said later in the evening when contacted by phone. “I wish [Fiercely Local] all the success in the world.”He said he was leaving for a family vacation in Belize on Tuesday morning. If lease negotiations between the city and Fiercely Local don’t work out, Cordts-Pearce said he’d consider returning to the process.It was Ireland who cast the deciding vote after other councilmen announced their choices. Had he gone with CP Restaurant Group, the council would have been deadlocked at 2-2. Interim Councilwoman Ruth Kruger earlier recused herself from the proceeding, citing a professional conflict of interest.”It breaks my heart to not choose somebody because I think they’re both qualified,” Ireland said. The finalists had been culled from a larger pool of nine applicants over the last month.Both candidates, Ireland said, submitted similar answers to questions about tenant improvements and lease rates. Neither candidate offered up much in the way of extra information about assuring customer affordability over the long term, he said.The mayor said he likes the energy and products associated with CP Restaurant Group, but decided to throw his support to Fiercely Local to break a deadlock over what was becoming an agonizing process.Councilman Torre, who last week was undecided on the matter, committed to Fiercely Local a few minutes before Ireland did, expressing doubts about CP Restaurant Group’s concept of a British-style “gastro pub.” He said his research on “gastro pubs” suggested that they are trendy and not quite the affordable, simple option he wants to replace Bentley’s in the space.Torre said both candidates would do a good job and added that he has lost sleep over the decision.In going with Fiercely Local, council members opted against the wishes of a majority of the Wheeler Opera House board, sources close to the decision said.Fiercely Local is represented by Michele Kiley and Marco Cingolani. Originally their plans included a caf in the retail space next door to Bentley’s, but after council members expressed reservations about the dual operations, they said they could alter their proposal and nix the retail component if that was the city’s desire.The city had asked the finalists for a fixed minimum monthly rent plus 8 percent of gross sales in exchange for a five-year lease with an option for another five years. Considering the prime location at the corner of North Mill Street and East Hyman Avenue, the rent terms are considered generous by Aspen standards, meant to give the operation stability and keep prices affordable for local consumers and tourists on a budget.Skadron offered little comment during Monday’s meeting, but previously voiced support for Fiercely Local because it gave the city an opportunity to “cultivate a homegrown business,” turning the Wheeler space into a small-business incubator of email@example.com
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