Mother Lode ripe for redevelopment? |

Mother Lode ripe for redevelopment?

Janet Urquhart

Plans to redevelop the Mother Lode restaurant, a downtown property that Aspen voters declined to purchase last year, won informal praise Wednesday from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.Plans for a new, three-story structure behind the historic Mother Lode building on Hyman Avenue are expected to come forward shortly as a conceptual proposal.Last night’s review was simply a check-in with the HPC to gauge its reaction to a contemporary-styled building on the back of the property.”What do you think about a very bold approach to our architectural style?” architect Bill Poss asked the commission.Doug Brown, a California developer who has homes in both Aspen and California, has an option to buy the restaurant property for an undisclosed sum from owners Howard Ross and Gordon Whitmer.The purchase price is more than the $3.25 million price that voters rejected in November 2003, Ross said.Brown said he wants to maintain the Mother Lode restaurant as a use in the building and involve Ross in its continued operation.Roughly the front 30 feet of the historic building containing the restaurant must be preserved. An outdoor dining area next to the building would also be retained, but a new, three-story structure is envisioned behind it.”We would like to take an approach to create a building that is a product of its own time – very, very contemporary,” Poss said.The new building would use the rose-colored bricks and sandstone that are employed in buildings elsewhere on the block, including the prominent Wheeler Opera House, but depart from the flat facades of the nearby historic buildings.The structure would stay within the 40-foot height limit on the site and include a mix of two free-market and two affordable housing units, according to Poss.Looking down the street from in front of the Wheeler, the Western-style false front of the Mother Lode would still be what people see, he noted.The proposed building is a good fit, said HPC member Derek Skalko. “I think it’s exactly what this town needs.”The HPC’s Sarah Broughton praised the idea of infill on the parcel – the filling in of an underutilized site with greater density.”To me, it’s a prime candidate for infill,” she said.Some HPC members liked the design of the proposed new building, others weren’t as enthused, but they didn’t pan it, either.”What’s driving that architecture?” asked member Michael Hoffman. Last year, voters rejected a proposal to buy the Mother Lode with Wheeler funds for the potential expansion of the opera house. Eventual expansion of the Wheeler on the 6,000 square feet next door to the opera house is anticipated; the Mother Lode property would have doubled the available space, though the historic part of the building has to be retained.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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