Jazz Aspen Snowmass close to buying building home to Eric’s, Su Casa and other tenants | AspenTimes.com

Jazz Aspen Snowmass close to buying building home to Eric’s, Su Casa and other tenants

Jazz Aspen Snowmass is launching a capital campaign to raise $25 million over the next five years, with $15 million intended to fund both the purchase of the Wheeler Square Building and its remodel into a live-performance and music-education venue.

The existing tenants in the East Hyman Avenue building — Aspen Billiards, Eric's Bar, Su Casa and The Cigar Bar — will stay open at least through this year and possibly longer, said parties on both sides of the transaction. The Wild Fig restaurant and the structure's top-level law office are not part of the deal.

Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of the nonprofit, said he expects the acquisition to close at the end of May, with designs to open The JAS Center — that's the tentative venue name — at the end of 2019. JAS will keep its administrative offices at the Red Brick Center for the Arts.

"We've been in our strategic plan, and this has been talked about on and off for years," he said.

The purchase hinges on the capital campaign's early push.

"The property purchase and its renovation are projected to cost $15 million," according to a statement JAS issued Thursday afternoon. "JAS is initiating the 'Keep the Music Playing' campaign immediately, with the hope of ultimately securing the $15 million and an additional $10 million to establish a JAS endowment for a total target capital campaign goal of $25 million over five years. With a closing date at the end of May, JAS must secure significant pledges towards their goal over the next 60 days to move forward with the building purchase."

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The statement continues: "During the due diligence period, should all the necessary inspections come back favorably and JAS is granted approval permits for its design and usage from the city of Aspen Planning Department; plus, secure the pledges needed to move forward with the purchase, the JAS Center would be projected to open to the public in late 2019."

JAS would acquire the 9,549 square feet of the condominium building currently possessed by the Casper family, who also have owned and operated the restaurant and bars there for 27 years, said Mary Lynn Casper, who keeps a daily presence at the building.

"The most important part of this is we have the opportunity to sell to someone we care about," said Casper. "It's much nicer than selling it to business people who would come here from out of state."

The Caspers have had their part of the building listed for $14.999 million since late 2016. In June 2016, they paid $3.1 million for the 2,674-square-foot ground-level space formerly occupied by the Hub of Aspen bike shop, which also is included in the pending transaction.

The multi-purpose, multi-level venue would serve as a home for JAS students and teachers to practice and study, as well as the place for live entertainment in the spirit of the JAS Cafe performances, which over the years has featured internationally known jazz artists at The Little Nell, the Cooking School of Aspen and the Aspen Art Museum.

"JAS will be able for the first time to offer students and teachers a consistent year-round space for rehearsal, practice, and study, in the same room where world-class artists and Grammy winners perform annually," Horowitz said in a prepared statement.

The Eric's space, a longtime popular haunt with the younger set, would remain "a gathering place for young adults with thematic soundtracks and DJ's," according to the JAS statement. Horowitz, in an interview separate from the JAS press release, said the Su Casa restaurant space also would serve as an eatery of sorts.

The pending purchase by JAS would be the latest change in the tenant landscape of the 300 block of East Hyman Avenue, where a building permit is pending for developer Mark Hunt's remodel of the Crystal Palace building into a boutique hotel, while Aspen Public House is taking over the Justice Snow's spot at the Wheeler Opera House in late spring. The future of the Popcorn Wagon (home of Ajax Donuts) and the Grey Lady restaurant also are in limbo, with Hunt eyeing those properties for redevelopment. The Aspen Times also relocated its offices from Main Street to the Mother Lode building on East Hyman in the summer of 2013.

Horowitz added the new JAS Center would be one bookend for a "mini arts and education district" on Hyman Avenue, with the Aspen Art Museum serving as the opposite bookend three blocks to the west.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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