Developer John Sarpa reflects how Aspen Meadows preservation saved key cultural and intellectual nonprofits
If you ask John Sarpa what he’s most proud of in his time developing Aspen, the answer is not building hundreds of thousands of square feet at the base of Aspen Mountain.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘What is the most important thing you have done in a positive way to have an impact on Aspen?’” Sarpa said. “I said it was the negotiation and having the ability to co-chair the process for the rezoning of the Aspen Meadows campus.”
When he was representing developer Mohamed Hadid in a land deal in 1984, 80 acres at the Aspen Meadows were part of the pickup in a foreclosure.
The nonprofits there — Aspen Center for Physics, the Aspen Institute, the Music Associates of Aspen and the International Design Conference — were looking for places to move, and had been at odds in trying to save the languishing property, Sarpa recalled.
He was summoned from his Washington, D.C., office by then-Institute chairman R.O. Anderson to the Meadows shortly after Hadid’s group assumed ownership of the land.
Anderson had all the players from those nonprofits in the room when Sarpa arrived.
“I noticed there was a fair amount of animosity among them, and an hour or two into the meeting someone pulled up the Aspen Idea book. ‘Do you even know what this is?’ I said, ‘No sir, I do not,’” Sarpa recalled. “He threw it across the table and said, ‘you read that damn book and come back tomorrow and we’ll talk’ and we ended the meeting right there.
“I took my little book home and I read it and I went, ‘Oh my God’ because what they had obviously was already there and it was in jeopardy,” Sarpa said. “But overnight I sure got it. It was like the lights went on and this was a whole lot more than a piece of real estate.”
He convinced Hadid and his investors, who planned on building high-density homes there, to give the land back to the nonprofits for $10.
They worked together, compromised and got the city to approve what is known as the Aspen Meadows Specially Planned Area.
“I certainly had a feeling it was important, but then you watch each one of those organizations blossom, raise money separately and all kinds of things which they couldn’t have done without that approval,” Sarpa said. “I watched each of them build their buildings and flourish.
“It felt great to see that, knowing I had a small part in it.”
Living out the Aspen Idea decades later, Sarpa got involved in a financially failing Aspen Valley Hospital in 2002.
It was on the brink of the state attorney general’s office taking over, and he and two other newly elected board members were successful in turning over the administration and getting new leadership.
Sarpa’s intimate involvement with the hospital, despite prior to 2002 knowing nothing about the health care industry, led him to be the interim CEO in 2013.
Concurrently, he helped lead the fundraising and expansion approval of AVH.
He currently serves as chairman of the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, which has $10 million left to raise of its $60 million goal to fund the 230,000-square-foot hospital.
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The city of Aspen is moving toward annexing a piece of property at the Airport Business Center to piece together a 10-acre site for affordable housing.