Business Monday: Aspen construction on the rise for first 9 months of ‘19 |

Business Monday: Aspen construction on the rise for first 9 months of ‘19

Construction on the corner of E Cooper Ave and S Hunter St continues in Aspen on Thursday, November 7, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

That water-cooler talk about construction racket and street detours in Aspen isn’t just anecdotal, as a recently released report shows the city has issued more building permits through the first nine months of 2019 than in at least a decade.

The number of permit and land-use cases that have gone through the city’s Building Department totalled 1,183 from January through September, the third time in the past 10 years the figure has topped 1,000 for the year’s first three quarters. The others were in 2017 (1,019) and 2009 (1,022).

The totals reflect permits and land-use cases for both residential and commercial work, as well as projects centered around electrical, mechanical and plumbing jobs.

The overall value of the work for the first nine months of the year was $241.4 million, the third time in the past decade that figure surpassed the $200 million mark. The others came in 2017 ($255.5 million) and 2016 ($297.8 million).

Rebecca Wallace, operations manager for the city’s Building Department, said the number of building permits and land-use cases aren’t always proportional.

Take the first nine months of 2016, for instance. During that time, the department had processed 934 building permits and land-use cases, yet the valuation was $297.8 million, the highest amount from 2009 and 2019. 2016, however, also was when Aspen Valley Hospital finished a major component of its nine-figure expansion project.

This year, the stats appear to be more in line. The number of permits and land-use cases are up (1,183 compared with 861 in 2018), as well as the valuation amounts ($241.1 million compared with $153.1 million) last year.

More evidence of increased construction activity can be found in the city Finance Department’s latest sales tax report, issued last week, showing that construction businesses reported $49.7 million in sales from January through September, an increase of 15.7% over the same period in 2018.

On the residential side, the city processed 404 building permits and land-use cases for the year’s first nine months, up from 225 last year. Valuation also is well ahead of last year — $144.9 million compared with $87.4 million.

That rise could be attributed to the high number of residential property transactions in 2018 and 2019, said Randy Gold of Aspen Appraisal Group.

There were 795 residential transactions worth a combined $1.8 billion for the entire 2018 in all of Pitkin County, the second-highest number in eight years, according to data from Land Title Guarantee Co.

“2019 has also been a very strong year for land sales and through Sept 30, is ahead of 2018 in dollar volume again,” Gold said. “Combine that with numerous dated houses that have sold and it is no surprise that we are seeing that kind of residential permit volume.”

On the commercial side, 137 permits and land-use cases with a value of $58.7 million were handled from January through September. That’s also better than last year’s respective figures of 81 and $37.6 million.

Gold theorized that activity “is being catalyzed by developers like Mark Hunt and others moving against expiration of vested rights approvals combined with a very favorable mortgage market with low interest rates.”

Recently completed or started commercial projects include the August opening of the 88-guestroom W Hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain; owner Thor Equities’ 15,728-square-foot redevelopment of the building that once housed Boogie’s Diner at the corner of Cooper Avenue and Hunter Street, which is due to be complete by the end of this year; and Hunt’s current redevelopment of the old Crystal Palace dinner into a 20-bedroom, luxury boutique hotel. Tentative plans are to finish the project sometime in 2021.