First businesses on tap for Willits Town Center |

First businesses on tap for Willits Town Center

A popular Aspen coffee shop will take honors of being one of the first businesses to open in the long-planned Willits project in Basalt.

Zele will take a space just shy of 2,000 square feet in the new Alpine Bank building that’s quickly taken shape this summer, according to developer Michael Lipkin. Zele is pondering a shop that would have a beer and wine license, as well as a coffee and juice bar. A limited food menu is also being planned, he said. A Zele executive couldn’t be reached for comment on the plan.

That building where Zele will be located is the first to be developed in what will eventually be a huge commercial core of 600,000 square feet, including 200,000 square feet of residential space.

Alpine Bank is the prime tenant of the 16,500-square-foot, two-story building. The bank is developing its own 4,000-square-foot space in the subdivided building. Retail space on the ground floor, neighboring Zele, will be leased, Lipkin said. Office space on the second floor will be offered for sale or lease.

The bank building is the closest structure in Willits to Highway 82. It sprouted in July and is supposed to be finished by mid-November, according to Lipkin. He is developing Willits along with Paul Adams and Clay Crossland of Basalt Trade Associates.

Willits, which was approved by the town of Basalt, also includes 325 single-family homes sites and approximately 370 townhouses and condominiums. About 120 home lots have been sold, according to the listing real estate agent, Wendy Lucas. Slightly more than 100 multifamily units are occupied, Lipkin said.

Another commercial building under contract, adjacent to the Alpine Bank building, is a general store that the developer and manager contend will be of an unparalleled standard. The 8,500-square-foot general store is an important building because it is a link between the highway-oriented business district on Willit’s north side and the pedestrian-friendly, old-town grid style of the south side.

Lipkin, an architect, said the general store will feature a design that combines the functionality necessary for a gas station with the pedestrian-friendly nature of a general store. A front porch will wrap about the south-facing side of the building, encouraging people to hang out rather than just come and go.

The first floor will feature the 3,000-square-foot store and a 2,000-square-foot liquor store. Both businesses, plus an affiliated car wash, will be managed by Bob Hite, a longtime restaurateur in the valley and co-owner, with wife Annie, of the successful Capitol Deli in the Orchard Plaza development. They will continue operating the restaurant as well as manage the Willits business.

Hite said he plans to open a food establishment in the general store. He plans to sell sandwiches and perhaps pizza, something other than “just a hot dog roller.” There will be counter space for about 15 customers, but no other seating.

Hite said the store won’t be anything like the convenience shops that pervade U.S. cities and towns. He plans to sell more upscale products.

The upper floor of the building will be available for lease or sale as an office or service business. The general store building should be completed by mid-November.

Lipkin said he suspects that the Willits Town Center, as the commercial core will be known, will maintain momentum once the first two buildings are completed. The west end of Basalt appears to be a successful commercial center, he noted, and Willits will add to the success.

“I think the greater the critical mass becomes the more attractive Willits will be,” Lipkin said.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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