Inside the Whole hole |

Inside the Whole hole

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT A deadline for a midvalley developer to bring a Whole Foods Market to Basalt is set to expire Monday without a new agreement in place, according to a representative of the development firm.Willits Town Center developer Joseph Freed & Associates (JFA) is trying to renegotiate a deal with Whole Foods because it cannot meet terms of the existing deal. It will be several weeks before the fate of the supermarket in the Roaring Fork Valley is known.Were still talking, said Jayne Thompson, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based development firm. She said JFA officials are optimistic the sides can reach a new agreement.Its probably going to be 30 to 60 days before we have a final, definitive statement, Thompson said.JFA was bound by the current contract to provide Whole Foods with the exterior shell of a building by June 1. The natural food chains own construction crew was going to finish the interior, and the 44,000-square-foot store was slated to open late this year or in early 2010. JFA stopped construction on Labor Day when its financing ran out.

Whole Foods officials have repeatedly said that company policy prohibits them from discussing the status of the project until after June 1. Its clear that the natural foods chain has curtailed its aggressive expansion plan since it signed the lease for the Basalt store in May 2007. The company announced earlier this month that it terminated leases for three new stores and downsized three others during its second fiscal quarter.Sources with knowledge of the Basalt negotiations said the store in Basalt, if a new agreement is reached, will be downsized from the proposed 44,000 square feet. Those sources requested anonymity because they werent authorized to speak publicly.The supermarket construction site along Highway 82 was abandoned after only the concrete foundation was completed. The deep hole is surrounded on the surface by construction material.The building was supposed to include a 98-space underground parking garage, the supermarket on the ground floor and two upper floors of employee housing.The general contractor on the job, Clayco, and several subcontractors have filed liens totaling nearly $8 million against JFA. They claim they havent been paid for some of their work on the job.

While the Whole Foods building fell victim to the worldwide recession and associated credit crisis, the developers own actions delayed the start of construction by months.After securing Whole Foods as a tenant in May 2007, JFA and minority-interest partner Michael Lipkin were required to submit an application to the town of Basalt for changes to their approvals. The largest individual space approved in Willits Town Center was 27,500 square feet. The developers needed Town Council permission to increase the space size to 44,000 square feet to accommodate Whole Foods.Since they had to obtain the towns approval for alterations, JFA and Lipkin applied for 85,000 square feet of additional residential space for free-market condominiums and 65,000 square feet for additional affordable housing units. Their request for 150,000 square feet in addition to the 500,000 square feet already approved sparked a political battle which dragged on for months. (See related timeline.)Friends and foes of the expanded project packed the Basalt councils chambers on Oct. 14, 2007, to offer testimony. The council delayed a decision, and demanded more information from the developers to prove the additional residences were necessary to make the economics of the project feasible.On Nov. 13, 2007, JFA officials ended the fight by separating the two parts of the application so that review of the supermarket space could advance. The Whole Foods review sailed through the council on Dec. 11.After negotiations with the town planning department, the developers finally secured a building permit in June 2008 13 months after Whole Foods signed a lease. JFA officials never complained about delays in securing the permit from the town, although project supporters complained that town planners delayed the permit because of concerns over the east facade of the supermarket, which faces Highway 82.Construction stalled after just three months, when the recession intensified.Thompson, the JFA spokeswoman, downplayed the significance of the delay caused by the firms attempt to get additional residences approved. It was impossible to foresee the credit crisis unfolding the way it did, she said.Moreover, while the current work stoppage is not what we hoped for, things might have been a lot worse if we had started sooner and been faced with the virtual shutdown of the residential market following the collapse of the credit market, Thompson said. These events would have shut down the job, leaving partially built buildings standing on the