Obermeyer Place plan wins raves | AspenTimes.com

Obermeyer Place plan wins raves

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A scaled-back Obermeyer Place that still accomplishes the many goals established for the project at its inception won a ringing endorsement Wednesday from the task force overseeing its design.

The community task force voted unanimously yesterday to forward the conceptual plan to the Aspen City Council, which will review it at a public hearing on Oct. 28.

Frustrated developers and a discouraged task force adjourned two months ago without any real idea where the public/private project was headed. Ambitious plans to redevelop a small pocket of commercial/industrial buildings and homes adjacent to Rio Grande Park were falling apart. Proposed four-story buildings alarmed neighbors and the community at large, while the task force watched with dismay as the creative elements of a plan they’d worked on for months disappeared in order to trim costs and building heights.

After regrouping and rethinking the project with property owner Klaus Obermeyer, who has spearheaded the redevelopment, his consulting team went back to the drawing board and produced something they believe will work for everybody.

Even architect Bob Schiller of Cottle Graybeal Yaw Architects, who has produced multiple iterations of the plan for the task force, admitted Wednesday that he was surprised at how well his latest effort turned out. Obermeyer, he said, deserves the credit for endorsing ideas that will cost more to build.

“I’m totally jazzed,” said task force member Georgia Hanson. “I left in August feeling quite disillusioned with the process. I’m very pleasantly surprised to come in and find something I can be so enthusiastic about.”

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“I think you’ve done an amazing job,” agreed Mayor Helen Klanderud.

The redevelopment proposal focuses on a funky collection of buildings that border Rio Grande Place, Spring Street and East Bleeker Street, where many of Aspen’s remaining service/industrial businesses remain. An auto repair shop, framer, ski tuner, glass shop, florist, a gym and the like do business there.

Obermeyer, founder of Sport Obermeyer and the major landowner in the enclave, brought in property owners Bill Murphy and Gailen Smith and the city in hopes of creating a single redevelopment project that would represent a vast improvement over what they could do individually.

“It gives the city and the community a much better result than if each of these properties developed individually,” Schiller said. “We think it’s really a one-time opportunity.”

The latest plan still addresses the project’s top priority: It replaces all of the roughly 37,000 square feet of service/commercial/industrial space that exists there currently, according to Schiller.

The project also includes 21 free-market condos and 21 deed-restricted affordable housing units, requiring 52,500 square feet and 15,750 square feet, respectively. Between surface and underground parking, the plan provides about 162 spaces, including 20-plus parking spaces for city vehicles that currently take up space in the Rio Grande Parking Garage.

And, Schiller stressed, none of the buildings will exceed the 35-foot height limit allowed under the existing zoning. Some will be shorter. The tallest buildings will stand nine feet below the top of the Concept 600 Building on Main Street, he said.

Neighboring Oklahoma Flats residents Ed and Diana Van Deusen praised the design team for dropping the height of the buildings. “We really appreciate what you’ve done to address the height situation,” Ed Van Deusen said.

In previous iterations of the project, the city gained 100 or more underground parking spaces. Another floor of underground parking for the city may still be feasible if the city wants to pay for its construction, said Tim Belinski, Obermeyer chief financial officer.

“It’s a dollars matter,” Klanderud said.

The project would cost roughly $50 million to construct, according to Steve Szymanski, financial consultant for Obermeyer. The sale of the free-market condos must subsidize the cost of replacing the commercial/industrial space, while the sale of the deed-restricted housing is expected to pay for itself.

The project is doable financially and requires no subsidy from the city at this point, Schiller said. The city owns several slivers of land that will be used for surface parking or access in exchange for its underground parking spaces.

In previous versions of the plan, the vacation of Rio Grande Place was envisioned, allowing Obermeyer Place buildings to be constructed near the edge of the park. That idea had been dropped by August, but the latest plans call for eliminating East Bleeker Street, a narrow alleylike street that currently bisects the area.

The entire project area will be excavated for one floor of underground parking and some below-grade commercial space that is essentially storage.

Much of the interior of the project will be devoted to pedestrian walkways, including a connection from Main Street to the park. Many of the service/light industrial businesses will have surface parking along Rio Grande Place. The entrance to the subgrade parking will also be off Rio Grande Place.

“It really does make it more of a neighborhood than it even is now,” said task force member Marcia Goshorn.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised,” said Pat Fallin, a Concept 600 resident and task force member.

The recycling center across the street, in Rio Grande Park, will be spruced up with a three-sided enclosure with a roof and landscaping to shield it as much as possible from free-market condos on the upper floors of the northern-most building in the development.

That may be a tough sell, warned task force member Ruth Kruger, a local real estate broker.

“It’s going to be difficult to sell an expensive apartment when you’ve got trucks dumping glass,” she said.

The developers would love it if the city would relocate the recycling compound elsewhere, Schiller admitted.

Kruger also praised the project, though she alone expressed regret over some of the most recent changes.

“It’s not what I hoped for, but I think you’ve done well under the constraints you were under,” she said.

At the earliest, developers could break ground on the project in the spring of 2004, according to Belinski. If the City Council gives formal approval to the preliminary plans later this month, the Obermeyer team will begin work on the detailed, final designs, he said.

Actually building the project will be driven by the sale of the condos, Belinski said. They must be pre-sold, he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]