Real estate giant buys Snowmass mall |

Real estate giant buys Snowmass mall

Scott Condon

The aging Snowmass Village Mall apparently will enjoy life after Base Village after all.A company called Meridian Pacific Ltd. purchased the mall in two separate transactions for a combined $24.8 million Tuesday. The deals make a strong statement about the future of the mall at a time when it has been nagged by uncertainty.The new Base Village, a mix of retail space, residences and skier services, is being developed by the Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest farther down Fanny Hill from the mall. There were questions about whether the new center would leave the old mall high and dry.Meridian Pacific founder, principal owner and President Gary Pinkston was willing to bet the mall can still flourish. He said he considers it an “outstanding opportunity” with Base Village, on-mountain improvements and other investments being made in Snowmass.”We really see the tide going up or rising,” Pinkston said.While the purchase price was significant, the fact that a company like Meridian Pacific was interested in the mall speaks volumes about the site’s prospects. The privately held company is a major real estate investor and lender in California, Hawaii, Texas and a handful of other states. It is based in San Francisco.”Over the years, we have financed, designed, developed, constructed, leased, managed and owned an aggregate total of over 17,000,000 square feet of industrial, retail, office and residential income properties for a total value of $1.5 billion,” said the company’s website.The company owns or operates office parks and retail centers that dwarf the Snowmass Village Mall. But Pinkston said his company is always looking for a good investment. He was skiing in Aspen last winter with some “Wall Street buddies” when he learned the mall was for sale.”We look for underserved retail markets with property that, for whatever reason, isn’t doing as well as it could,” Pinkston said. “This is our business – we look for undernourished opportunities.”Snowmass renaissanceMeridian Pacific plans to make immediate repairs and minor improvements to spruce up the mall for the summer season. In the fall it will paint the two different sections of the mall the same color to make it appear seamless.The original part of the mall, centered at the tower, was developed in the late 1960s. It was owned by Snowmass Village Mall Properties. That section sold to Meridian Pacific for $14 million.The newer part of the mall, closer to where bus passengers arrive, was developed in the late 1980s by John Francis and the late Tom Blake. That section, called the Gateway Center, sold for $10.8 million.Ruth Kruger, the listing broker for the Gateway Center, said she believes the mall was attractive because it provides a great opportunity. Snowmass Village is experiencing a “renaissance” with the approval of Base Village, sale of the mall and other projects, said Kruger, owner of Kruger and Co., which specializes in commercial real estate.”It will bring all of the Aspen-Snowmass community back up to a world-class resort,” she said.Local ownership preferredMeridian Pacific acquired 77,000 square feet of commercial space. The entire mall is about 100,000 square feet. The transaction didn’t include the Timbermill building and the other spaces closest to the slopes.Pinkston said he plans to cultivate long-term contracts with tenants. He wants to keep the focus on local ownership. “Our desire is not to take a local and replace it with a cookie-cutter (national tenant),” he said. “That’s not our style.”He said he would give local companies and owners the first shot to fill niches, but he wouldn’t rule out signing national companies if locals don’t fill all slots. One thing the mall needs, he said, is a good aprés ski place. In general, he wants an interesting mix of shops to make people “stop and shop.”Pinkston has experience doing that. His background includes developing shopping malls.Pinkston is coming to Snowmass Village to meet with tenants the week of June 13. He retained the mall management and maintenance staff.If Pinkston envisions sweeping changes to the mall in the future, he’s not talking, perhaps because he doesn’t want to alarm tenants or perhaps because there isn’t a plan yet.”Our job right now is to take what’s there and make it work better,” he said.The town government clearly wants the property – which was at the center of what is obscurely known as West Village – redeveloped. A recent study of the mall and surrounding area by an economic consultant and town staff contemplated how to encourage redevelopment. One goal was to find a “master developer” that would acquire the mall and work with the town. That part of the mission was accomplished.”Due to the strength of the Snowmass location – one of the highest quality ski experiences in the world and close proximity to Aspen – and client loyalties, most West Village properties have been able to defer the eventuality of revitalization,” the town study said. “However, it now appears that competitive changes in the resort market as a whole are increasing the need for revitalization efforts.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is