Mine Dumps going down
It might be a dump but it was their dump.That’s the collective thought of the two dozen-or-so residents at the Mine Dumps apartments who, by the time you read this, will have moved out to make way for either luxury townhomes or a hotel.Some tenants know where they’ll go, others have no clue. For J.R. Richards and his girlfriend, Ali Hodgson, they’ll probably pitch a tent for the rest of the summer.
“It’s so vicious to get an apartment here,” Richards said. They share a three-bedroom apartment at the base of lift 1A with Clarke Paschall, who’s lived there for close to a decade. Their apartment, complete with a built-in bar and foosball table, is probably one of the last ski bum pads left in town. The rent is $1,200 a month and the apartment is ski-in, ski-out. Richards, Hodgson and Paschall have enjoyed skiing straight to their sliding glass door, popping off their skis and immediately grabbing a beer in the comfort of their own living room.They’ve been living the dream in Aspen that many people thought long gone. Now it really is.”We had it made for a long time but everything must end,” said Paschall, who is moving into a studio at Truscott Place on the golf course. “I’ve always had a feeling [that something would be developed] because it’s a prime spot. It’s not too hard to figure out.”
The Mine Dumps, originally built as the Norway Lodge in 1954, will be demolished by the end of the summer so the property’s owners, Centurion Partners, can prepare the site for a 175,000 square-foot, 80-room luxury hotel. The development proposal is currently under review by the Aspen City Council. If it’s rejected, Centurion will build 14 townhomes and 17 affordable housing units instead.”It has always been slated that something was going to happen there,” said Centurion principal John Sarpa, who added that his company and the previous owner, Savanah Limited Partnership, didn’t put a lot of money into the place. That kept the rents low but the living conditions a bit lacking.”Maximizing cash flow there was never the goal,” Sarpa said.City Councilman Jack Johnson, who has lived in a one-bedroom apartment for the past four years, paid $250 a month.”I haven’t had a hot shower since I lived here,” he said.Johnson has been moving his belongings for the past month into the basement of former City Councilwoman Jasmine Tygre’s home, where he will live for the time being.Johnson plans to apply for Centurion employee housing at either the Smuggler Racquet Club or the Aspen Airport Business Center when they are approved and built, which is estimated to be no less than two years (if the hotel is approved).
Johnson, like all the other tenants, has first right of refusal to live in Centurion housing if he meets the income standards. That’s Roberto Soria’s plan. For now, though, he will move his three children and wife to a mobile home he owns in El Jebel. Soria has lived at the Mine Dumps for 24 years, ever since it was employee housing for the Grand Aspen hotel, now a Hyatt property.Soria, who works at the Mollie Gibson lodge, slowly packed up through late June and planned to take his last load June 30 after a final farewell party with his neighbors.”After 24 years, I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Soria said. “After you live in a place for so long, it takes awhile to get going.”Part of the reason Soria has been slow to move out is because his tenants in the mobile home can’t find a place to live. Soria rents to a man, his wife (who is expecting a baby in July), and her brother. They’ve looked as far as Rifle, and they can’t find anything affordable. If they can’t find anything by June 30, then they’ll go to a Glenwood Springs hotel.Soria isn’t too pleased about joining the masses of commuters on Highway 82. He said he tried to find a place in Aspen – he can afford up to $2,000 a month – but the places that go for that price are too small for his family.
Across the parking lot, Judith and Santos Vigil, immigrants from El Salvador, have lived for three years in a two-bedroom apartment with their small son and her visiting mother. They pay $650 a month. Santos will stay in the valley to work as a landscaper but Judith plans to move to Ontario, Calif., where the rest of her family lives.They spent a recent afternoon drinking Dos Equis beer and barbecuing carne asada in front of the apartment.”We can’t afford anything here,” Judith said, adding that she may have to sleep in the car.Richards lamented that Aspen, like just about every ski resort in the country, has changed for the worse.”This is a place for the rich now,” he said. “The days of the ski bum are over … this place is now just an investment for rich people to put their money. It’s the new stock market, the secret is out.”
Developers have been on the property in recent days checking the buildings for asbestos and preparing for preliminary site work. Sarpa said the plan is to have the property ready for construction in 2008.”Next spring, when everyone knows what it’s going to be, we’ll be ready to build,” Sarpa said.He added that the people who live at the Mine Dumps have been great tenants. Their departure has been amicable, despite that they are being kicked out. Centurion offered three different compensation programs to the tenants: Either the last three months rent-free, the equivalent in cash or a combination of the two.Richards, Paschall and Hodgson took two months of free rent and the third month in cash.Tenants were supposed to be out months ago but Centurion was able to get an extension on its vested property rights to buy some more time. Finally time ran out, however, and Centurion sent a notice at the end of May telling renters they had to vacate by June 30.Paschall, who has lived in a couple different apartments in the complex for more than a decade, said he is grateful he’s been able to stay this long. “There’s been rumors for the last six or seven years,” he said. “The landlord a few years ago even had an eviction party.”It’s almost a relief to know we’re out of here,” he said. “Every year we hoped just a little longer.”For Richards, he said he’s felt like his apartment, which he also uses as a home office, was temporary.”I’ve always sensed that the clock was ticking,” he said. “It’s just a shame you can’t keep it going.”
All the tenants interviewed, with the exception of Johnson, who will vote on the hotel proposal, said they support a new hotel in place of their homes – not only because they get first dibs at employee housing, but because a hotel will enliven a neighborhood that in many respects has died. Plus, they said, it’s better than townhomes.”Obviously it’s a corner of town that’s historic and a huge hotel is hard to swallow,” Richards said. “But it’s better than temples to egos.”A yard sale was planned for Saturday, June 30, at noon at the Mine Dumps and at least one keg of beer had been purchased for a goodbye party.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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