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New direction for Main Street

Carolyn SackariasonAspen Times Weekly
The mature cottonwood trees on the west end of Main Street have always given the area a quiet beauty, as depicted in this 1963 photo. The trees are starting to die off, but city officials plan to replace them and preserve the green canopy.(courtesy Aspen Historical Society)
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The more things change, the more they stay the same. And nowhere is that more true in Aspen than Main Street, where the historic thoroughfare serves the same purpose today that it did 100 years ago.In an era of speculative development and high real estate prices, Main Street continues to reflect Aspens historic small-town character regardless of the changes occurring there.With numerous properties presently up for sale or under redevelopment, Main Street appears to be going through yet another transformation. This will almost certainly change the streets appearance, but appears unlikely to disrupt its multi-use mix of retail, restaurant, office, residential and religious institutions. All sorts of buildings can be found on Main Street: high-priced homes, affordable housing, local-serving businesses from medical offices to law firms on the west end, to restaurants, the historic Hotel Jerome and government offices on the east. The street is flanked on both ends by religious institutions the Christian Science building near the S-curves and historic St. Mary Catholic Church located just outside of the citys commercial core. Gas stations, a city park and a drugstore also call Main Street home.And thats how its been for decades along Main Street, now zoned as a mixed-use area and protected by a historic district that holds new development to specific guidelines.Aspens Main Street is a pretty normal reaction to development, said Ford Frick, managing director and director of resort development for BBC Research and Consulting. It became a logical consequence of the conditions and pressures of Aspen.

Main Streets first pathAspens Main Street wasnt built up in the traditional sense like most cities, where the main drag served as the hub of social activity and commerce. Its a little different from other resorts because it doesnt run through the middle of town, said Chris Bendon, the citys community development director. Sixty or 70 years ago, it was primarily a quiet place to raise your family.In the early days of Aspens silver boom, Main Street was home to the towns wealthiest residents who lived in large Victorian houses. It was real sleepy, said Larry Fredrick, a local historian. The street cars used to run down Main Street to the West End and that was considered the suburbs.Low- to middle-income residents lived in what is now Paepcke Park, which also served as the city dump during the early years.When the town was first laid out, Hyman Avenue was created as the commercial hub. And, like today, Main Street served as the main artery to get to the downtown area, with Mill and Galena streets as the turnoff points. The only difference now is that Main Street is part of state Highway 82 and is clogged with traffic in the mornings and evenings.I have never quite established why Main Street started so far north from the commercial core, Fredrick said. When they built the courthouse it was considered too far away and it was quite scandalous. Then the [Hotel Jerome] was built and that legitimized the area.There was always a commercial element on Main Street, like the old Mesa Store, a general store built at Main and Fourth streets in the 1880s. Today, the historic building is home to a yoga and pilates studio.Main Street was transformed into a bona fide commercial district in the 1940s and 50s, when ski lodges were built. Some still remain, either in remodeled versions of their former selves or aging structures that have remained untouched.In the 1960s, the citys main library was built where Design Workshop is today. Walter Cronkite came here to give the opening remarks and that was pretty forward in that it signaled Aspen was a hot place to come, Frederick said. Aspen had come of age.Nip and tuckThe citys policy toward Main Street is to find creative architectural solutions that are compatible with the historic mining character. City officials acknowledge that change along Main Street is inevitable.There has been significant redevelopment of lodges and they have to in order to remain competitive, Bendon said, adding Main Street also serves as a destination for local-serving businesses that cant afford escalating rents in the downtown core.

Bill Small, a real estate broker with Frias Properties, said while Main Street serves many purposes theres nothing unique about it compared to other cities other than its evolution.Its about time some of these buildings get redeveloped, he said.Only a handful of Aspens ski lodges remain in the hands of their founding families. Most have either changed hands or undergone significant transformations. The Christiana at 501 W. Main St. recently went through a remodel and now includes 25 condominiums, along with three employee-housing units.Opened this season, the newly remodeled Innsbruck Inn offers 10 two-bedroom and seven one-bedroom fractional condominiums at 233 W. Main St. .The new owners of the Annabelle Inn, 232 W. Main St., also completely rebuilt the well-worn Christmas Inn and gave the modern lodge a new name.Reinvesting for the futureSeveral properties along Main Street are being redeveloped into mixed-use buildings, with one exception at 435 W. Main St., which will become a synagogue.This spring, LAuberge DAspen, a collection of new and funky old cabins that operate like a traditional American motor lodge, will be knocked down and replaced with the Jewish Community Center Chabad of Aspen, a 34,000-square-foot campus that will take up half a city block.The Jewish Community Center bought the property in April 2003 for $6.3 million. Between $16 million and $17 million will be needed to construct the building. Six of the historic cabins will remain on the property, situated along Third Street and the midblock alley. Half of the overall center will be located underground.Up the street, the redevelopment plan for 604 W. Main St., which is historically protected, is scheduled to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission in April. The propertys owner, Neil Karbank, plans to demolish a couple of the 1950s buildings and replace them with more modern structures that would be rented out as commercial space, said the projects planner, Alan Richman. A deed-restricted affordable-housing unit would be built on the propertys back portion.

The proposal, which has the approval of the Historic Preservation Commission, would add about 3,000 square feet of office space to the property, if approved by Aspen City Council.The historic buildings will remain and continue to be used by Karbank, who occupies the space for his law firm. The other historically designated structure may be used as an arts studio in the future.In April 2004, the City Council approved a mixed-use building on the corner of Main and Galena streets, which is now under construction directly in front of the Galena Loft condominiums. The old Stage 3 theater property, sold by former owner George Carisch in May 2006 for $5 million, is currently being redeveloped in a mixed-use building that includes commercial space, affordable housing and a free-market condominium. The project is known simply as 625 E. Main St. and is being developed by Jeff Jones, a Dallas-based developer.The eventual result will be a 27,000-square-foot building, which is scheduled for completion in early 2009. The first floor will have retail space and the second floor will be dedicated to five deed-restricted one-bedroom apartments that will be offered in the housing lottery as ownership units. The second floor also will have office space. The third floor will include one 2,000-square-foot penthouse, said Small of Frias Properties. A rooftop deck and an underground parking garage also are included.The property owners, Millennium Plaza LLC., was formed by Lowell Meyer and Gary Freedman. The development, located 426 E. Main St., consists of commercial space on the ground floor, three affordable-housing units on the second floor and one free-market unit on the third floor. The basement will be used for storage.For saleThe Sardy House, 128 E. Main St., was purchased by hedge-funds mogul John Devaney in 2006 for $16.25 million. But the recent subprime mortgage crisis forced Devaneys firm, United Capital Markets, to freeze some $620 million in assets. Forced to tighten his belt, Devaney put the Sardy House up for sale. Devaneys recent plans to remodel the property into a nightclub and fractional ownership condos have fallen through, sources said.

A few blocks away, a carriage house behind an historic Victorian home at 314 W. Main St. has been up for sale since June. The owners are asking $2.9 million for the property, said real estate broker Shael Johnson of Rich Wagar Associates. The property owners took the historic Elijah (No! I think this is the Elias [Sara]) House through the citys historic lot-split process, sold the main house and kept the 4,500-square-foot carriage house as their primary residence. It includes a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor, and the main level is rented out to an interior decorator.A couple of doors down, another Victorian home is up for sale at 332 W. Main St. The 2,350-square-foot home has been listed for the past six months at $2.9 million, said Steve Walker, a broker with Leverich & Carr. The HPC already has given approval for the property owner to remove the non-historic back portion of the building and replace it with two condominiums.It will still look like a Victorian but will be new, Walker said of the current plans. It wouldnt look like some new add-on.Owned by Alice Brien, the historically designated home is unoccupied. It used to be owned by Gary Feldman and was used as a real estate office.Walker said there has been a fair amount of interest from people who were looking to use the home as office space.At $1,274 per square foot, the property should appeal to business owners who cant find affordable space in the commercial core of Aspen, Walker said.If you look at the costs, [Main Street] is becoming pretty attractive, he said. Rents are so high, and they are getting higher … In our world, thats a pretty good price.Farther to the west, the sale of 518 W. Main St. will be a bit more complicated. Real estate broker Bill Stirling is selling a one-half interest in the property for $1.6 million. The catch is that the property is embroiled in a legal dispute between two owners.City of Aspen: maintaining Main with careIts not just developers reinvesting in Aspens historic street. The city of Aspen is pouring money and attention into Main Street with sidewalk improvements, as well as monitoring aging cottonwood trees that have lined the road for nearly 100 years.Two blocks between Fifth and Seventh streets on the south side of Main Street do not have sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk either in the street or in front yards, which is virtually impossible during the winter.This summer, the city of Aspen will spend $500,000 to install sidewalks along those two blocks.Were hoping to get this done by the end of the year, said City Engineer Trish Aragon.She added that preliminary research is under way to install a crosswalk on the west end of Main Street, in front of the popular Hickory House restaurant.Possibly one of the most endearing aspects of Main Street is its long arcade of cottonwood trees. But just as the uses have changed and will continue to change on Main Street, so will the natural landscape.Chris Forman, the citys forester, said there are 25 cottonwood trees that are more than 30 inches in diameter from Seventh Street to Original Curve. He estimates those trees are between 60 and 80 years old, and near the end of their lives. Seven of them are being closely monitored for their health, safety and disease.They certainly are candidates for not hanging around for another 10 years, he said. Well keep them around until they are no longer an asset but a liability.Forman said the city has a plan for Main Streets trees, which include planting new trees to preserve the canopy.Weve been preparing for our loss of that canopy, Forman said. There are 63 cottonwood trees that are between 12 and 28 inches in diameter and 88 trees under 10 inches in diameter along Main Street.Thats quite a substantial number of trees that will produce a large canopy for years to come, but it will change over time with the next generation of trees.Keeping the characterPerhaps the most unique aspect of Main Street is that it still reflects Aspens history while serving the todays purposes.Its interesting that there are different eras representing Main Street, said Sara Adams, the citys historic preservation planner. And thats not by coincidence. Main Street has been designated a historic district to preserve its character while still accommodating compatible changes.Dozens of Main Street structures are historic landmarks and have stringent regulations about what can be altered. Other buildings along Main Street are considered non contributing and can be changed as long as they meet the citys design guidelines, which consider building materials, mass and scale, and architectural style.They dont have to mimic the buildings. New buildings can look like they do today, but they have to incorporate the same building materials used historically, Bendon said.

The predominant use of wood clapboard and shingle siding is considered an important historical feature of Main Street. The citys guidelines require that new buildings should appear similar to the traditional ones.Protecting the visual continuity and rhythm is a central theme in the historic guidelines, which address everything from roof pitches to building sizes to their orientation toward the street. Main Street always has been considered the outskirts of town, but it has evolved over time to accommodate a host of commercial, retail and office uses.Its just like the rest of town, it adapts to whatever the conditions are, or whatever developers can get away with, Fredrick said. And thats not much since city regulations appear to favor commercial uses over residential development. I think the citys intent is to maximize commercial uses on Main Street, said Johnson of Rich Wagar Associates. They [discourage] residential by not allowing as much to be built as commercial.csack@aspentimes.com


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