Red Onion project gets red-tagged for unapproved work

Historic downtown Aspen watering hole looks to reopen in fall

A “Stop Work Order” hangs on the door of the Red Onion in Aspen on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The renovation of the Red Onion tavern in downtown Aspen was frustrated Wednesday by a city-issued order to stop doing unapproved interior work.

City officials including police officers originally had responded to a report that construction vehicles were crowding the alley behind the Red Onion site on the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall, according to Denis Murray, who is the city Building Department’s plans examination manager.

“There was a complaint that some of the alley was being blocked by a construction trailer and the trash hauler couldn’t get to their dumpster in the alley,” Murray said.

While on site, Murray inspected the inside of the Red Onion building.

“They got a little ahead of the interior work,” said Murray, adding that there was no permit for them to be doing the work they were doing.

The type of permit, which is called an IFFR permit for interior finish and fixture removal, is for work done as a precursor to securing a building permit, Murray explained. The building permit is pending before the city; the scope of the renovation includes new bathrooms on the first level, adding booths, new light fixtures and a fireplace, The Aspen Times has reported.

Reached later Wednesday, the building owner and developer Mark Hunt said he spoke with the Building Department and the issue will be sorted out soon. The project’s general contractor is Aspen-based G.F. Woods Construction.

“(The general contractor) had to expose the walls and do things because you have to brace up and protect the historic assets because we are digging such a deep hole indoors, and what I’m hearing is (the general contractor) exceeded the allowed amount as we’re waiting for the (IFFR) permit,” Hunt said.

He said the red-tag hold backs construction work aimed at re-opening a renovated Red Onion under new management this fall. Renovation includes putting two bathrooms on the first level and adding booths, new light fixtures and a fireplace.

The construction is scheduled to begin in May and end in September, according to the building permit application submitted to the city.

“Everyone’s goal is to get the Red Onion open,” Hunt said. “It certainly is the community’s goal and ourselves’, and we thought the city’s. When we first came with the plans to get this asset back to the community, we thought it would be two or three weeks (to get the building permit) and it’s been 10 months for a building that as of yesterday, they were still trying to figure out at the Building Department how many bathrooms are needed.

“Obviously there is not urgency from the city’s standpoint to get the Red Onion open.”

In the meantime, both the building-permit and IFFR permit applications for the interior work are pending before the city.

“They were very apologetic,” Murray said.

The construction site for the Red Onion renovation is at 420 E. Cooper Ave. The then-operators of the historic watering hole closed it in December 2020 because of COVID-19 public health orders.