Obermeyer pitches infill
February 21, 2002
The ink has barely dried on Aspen’s recently released infill report and already a property owner has stepped forward with an idea to revitalize a funky corner of town with new development.
Klaus Obermeyer, Aspen’s legendary skiwear manufacturer, will broach the City Council next month with plans to raze his former factory building and several other structures and build a multi-use project.
The development is strictly in the idea stage at this point, but Obermeyer and his representatives want to know if the city would like to be a partner in the project. Some small, adjacent pieces of city land could be folded into the development, and the city could gain space in an underground parking garage that would serve the new buildings, said Ben Gagnon, spokesman for the project. A land transaction involving city property would likely require a public vote, he added.
At a March 11 public hearing, the council will be asked to determine if the project is eligible for the city’s COWOP review process, established for use when the city is both an applicant and the body that must approve a development. Projects are eligible when they are reasonably necessary for the Convenience and Welfare of the Public – hence the COWOP acronym.
The Obermeyer family owns the properties, which include the metal, factory building along Rio Grande Place that currently contains a mix of local service businesses, including a ski-tuning shop, framing shop, painting contractor, auto-service shop and martial arts studio. Obermeyer’s daughter, Susie, resides in an old house to the rear of the building, off Bleeker Street.
A second parcel at the corner of Bleeker and Mill streets contains a house, quonset hut and a trailer.
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Obermeyer purchased the property in 1961 and constructed the factory building. It has seen better days, he said.
“Every time I drive by it now, I blush,” Obermeyer confessed. “I thought, well, it would be kind of nice to make it a little better looking and make it better for the people who are renting there.”
His buildings are located in the city’s service/commercial/industrial zone, designated for service-oriented businesses that have been pushed out of downtown Aspen by high rents.
Both the city’s new infill report and its Civic Center Master Plan identify the area for potential redevelopment.
Obermeyer is contemplating mixed-use buildings that would contain additional commercial space, affordable housing and free-market units, Gagnon said. That is exactly the vision outlined in the infill report, which recommends amendments to the city land-use code to foster such developments.
A two-level underground parking garage could serve both the building tenants and provide remote parking for the city. Aspen could use the parking for its employees or for other, in-town infill projects where parking is unavailable, Gagnon said.
Obermeyer said he envisions constructing three separate buildings in phases, so that the existing businesses on his properties will have a place to operate throughout construction.
At one time, Obermeyer products were manufactured in the old factory, which doubled as the distribution center. Obermeyer and his family lived in the quaint house behind it.
“We had 18 [seamstresses] in there, and I was doing the cutting,” he recalled.
The manufacturing operation later relocated to Denver and then overseas. Sport Obermeyer headquarters moved to its present locale at the Airport Business Center in 1979.
The little house on the property used to lean to the east, Obermeyer said. He attached cables to the structure, pulled it upright and build a huge fireplace in the house that continues to hold the residence up, he said.
The house, along with the other buildings, would disappear with the proposed redevelopment.
“I think this has a good chance to create a good thing for everybody concerned,” Obermeyer said. “It’s an opportunity, probably.”
If the city agrees the project is eligible for the COWOP process, a task force will be appointed to come up with a specific development proposal that will then go to the council for approval. Members are likely to include representatives of the Planning and Zoning Commission and housing board, as well as others with an interest in the project.