Offices coming to downtown Basalt’s rescue? | AspenTimes.com

Offices coming to downtown Basalt’s rescue?

Basalt has a chance to land another corporate office that would dovetail with Aspen Skiing Co.'s plan to relocate some of its operations there and Rocky Mountain Institute's opening of its Innovation Center next month.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and other members of the council said at a public meeting Tuesday night that a corporation is interested in considering relocating its headquarters to the Pan and Fork site. Few details were offered, but Whitsitt said she wanted to explore that possibility. After the meeting she referred questions about the mystery corporation to Town Manager Mike Scanlon.

Scanlon said Wednesday that Jim DeFrancia, president of the development firm Lowe Enterprises, informed him about 10 weeks ago that a corporation wants to look into the site for offices. "It's a company that's already (located) in the valley," Scanlon said.

DeFrancia has not disclosed to the town the identity of the company or what it does, according to Scanlon. However, he has said the company is mature and at a fixed size, so the Pan and Fork site could potentially be a good fit, Scanlon said.

Lowe Enterprises has an option to purchase part of the Pan and Fork site from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The nonprofit owns the half of the property closest to Two Rivers Road. The town owns the half closest to the Roaring Fork River.

The Town Council approved a resolution Tuesday night that gives the town staff a green light to work with Lowe on a development proposal, among other things. Scanlon said he hopes that will give Lowe the confidence needed to sign a pre-development agreement so they can move closer to a formal development proposal. If that happens, more will come out about the corporation seeking office space, he said.

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Scanlon said he believes the site could still accommodate a restaurant and possibly a hotel in conjunction with the office building.

Lower land costs than areas around Aspen are making Basalt an attractive location for corporate offices, Scanlon said. Rocky Mountain Institute is putting finishing touches on its 15,610-square-foot Innovation Center adjacent to the Pan and Fork site. It will include offices for as many as 50 workers, allowing for future growth. The center is scheduled to open in December.

Just up the street, Aspen Skiing Co. is negotiating to purchase the Riverside Plaza building, Lot A, at 255 Gold Rivers Court The building is currently occupied by retail spaces on the ground floor and vacant office space on the upper two floors. The building is about 27,000 square feet. Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said earlier this month the company will assess what personnel it can relocate to the building. He said it hasn't been determined yet how many workers will be relocated to Basalt, but he noted a sizable portion of the workforce commutes from downvalley. Some of those workers don't need to be located at the base of the ski areas, he said.

Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy also is planning on opening a river center and offices on the west side of the Rocky Mountain Institute's new building. The conservancy, which works on water quantity and quality issues in the Roaring Fork basin, is raising funds for the structure.

"It could be that we end up with a lot of offices downtown," Scanlon said.

Offices aren't the type of sexy use some people envisioned. The Pan and Fork has been envisioned as the future site for everything from a hotel and restaurants to residences and an event center. Scanlon said he believes a combination of uses would fuel revitalization.

scondon@aspentimes.com