Hunt’s concepts get a favorable response at HPC | AspenTimes.com

Hunt’s concepts get a favorable response at HPC

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Five redevelopment concepts from downtown developer Mark Hunt drew mostly favorable responses from the Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday, though a few members of the board raised concerns.

Hunt — a businessman with Chicago ties who, along with investors, has racked up more than $100 million in Aspen investments across more than a dozen properties — walked through preliminary plans for five concepts Wednesday. Two call for affordable lodges — at the Conoco gas-station site on Main Street and the Buckhorn Arms building, which is home to Johnny McGuire's on Cooper Avenue. Neither plan includes a free-market residential component.

The other three offerings are retail concepts: a repurposing of the Crystal Palace building on Hyman Avenue; a smaller, shorter, redeveloped version of the Aspen Daily News building on Hopkins Avenue; and a bakery with a new facade and rear addition at a Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall retail space.

As these were all preliminary concepts, the Historic Preservation Commission did not conduct an official review. When and if it does — and if there is approval or denial on any applications — the Aspen City Council has the right to call it up for its own review.

Sitting with Hunt in City Hall on Wednesday, architect Charles Cunniffe called the Cooper Avenue lodge, dubbed Base 1, a hotel-hostel hybrid, with 10-by-15-foot rooms running from $150 to $200 a night. Hunt described the outside of the building as having gritty texture and described the inside as "communal, social and fun," featuring two bowling lanes modeled after a mining shaft.

Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Jay Maytin said the lodge would draw a demographic that Aspen has been missing.

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Located on Main Street near the West End, the "Base 2" lodge, as proposed, would be above allowable height, though Cunniffe said he did not have an exact number. Hunt described it as skier-chalet-inspired.

Board member Nora Berko said the Base 2 concept was the most difficult for her because Historic Preservation Commission guidelines call for one-story structures on Main Street, and if they are two stories, the roof is flat. Hunt's concept, which is about 35 feet tall, has a sloping, peaked roof. Hunt said he is not overly concerned about altering the roof, as the room count is what's important.

Berko also took issue with the renderings of the Crystal Palace redevelopment, saying she didn't recognize the building as the iconic structure that housed Aspen's famed dinner theater.

"I don't see the recognition, except for the owl" graphic on the side of the building, Berko said. "That's our charge — to preserve these buildings."

Board member James DeFrancia initially said he didn't recognize the Crystal Palace either but then chalked it up to a poor rendering. This was after Hunt pointed out that all the brick and its openings are original.

The tone was mostly positive throughout the meeting, with board members praising Hunt for not asking beyond what is allowed on most of the concepts. Maytin said people typically come to him with concerns about developers requesting more height and more square footage than what is allowed.

"I kind of see the opposite here, although the comments to me haven't really changed that much," Maytin said. "I appreciate that you're building two-story buildings and you're not asking for 4,000- and 5,000-square-foot, 24-cyclinder financial engines to make the projects work. And now I wonder if all that in the past was really required."

Maytin described the Crystal Palace redevelopment as "using an old building for a new purpose," which would revitalize that corner of town. Board member John Whipple agreed, calling it the best rendering of the structure that the Historic Preservation Commission has seen. In terms of all five buildings, Whipple said Hunt couldn't have picked better eyesores to replace with new structures. Base 1, he said, reminded him of smaller hotels in New York, saying Hunt is headed in the right direction.

Vice Chairman Willis Pember called Hunt's presentation a historic moment for Aspen, admitting he's never seen five projects like this coming to downtown.

Hunt responded that he is most nervous about the two concepts he didn't intend to pursue: the hotels.

"If you're going to look at them and (ask) which ones are most aggressive, it's really the hotels," he said. "But they kind of have to be, in order to get a certain amount of size, if you're really kind of shooting for 100 rooms."

herk@aspentimes.com

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