RMI eyes relocation to Basalt | AspenTimes.com

RMI eyes relocation to Basalt

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

BASALT – Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has reached an agreement for an option to buy land in Basalt where it hopes to eventually relocate its office from Old Snowmass.

RMI, a world leader in energy efficiency and sustainable design issues, will get an option to buy about a half-acre of land where the popular Tacqueria el Nopal restaurant is located. It will exercise the option to buy the site from the Basalt town government for $600,000 if officials approve plans to build an office and meeting facility, Town Manager Bill Kane said.

RMI officials and the Basalt Town Council reached an agreement in principle Tuesday night. The deal will be formalized Dec. 14, said Kane and RMI Executive Director Marty Pickett.

“This is just a great day for Basalt,” Kane said. It’s another step forward in what has evolved as the development of a nonprofit campus in the town, he said.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy, a nonprofit focused on water quality and quantity issues in the valley, acquired an adjacent parcel from the town in 2005. The conservancy plans to build an office and education center there. A short distance away, the town has rented part of the former library to the Wyly Community Arts Center. Not far away are the new Basalt library and Midland Park.

The town’s goal is to work with the private sector to redevelop the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park just to the east of where RMI and the conservancy plan to build their headquarters, Kane said. That redevelopment could include additional space for nonprofit institutions.

The town’s sale of land to the conservancy and the deal with RMI sends a message that “we’re really open for business” for similar types of nonprofit institutions, Kane said. “We really hope this brands us.”

Pickett said RMI has explored potential relocation sites because its potential for growth at the Windstar Land Conservancy property is limited, and because the institution wants to be closer to community amenities.

“It’s more that we’re attracted to Basalt than we wanted to move away” from Old Snowmass, she said.

RMI was started in 1982 in the Old Snowmass home of co-founder, chairman and chief scientist Amory Lovins. It moved to the nearby Windstar property in 1996. Lovins refers to it as a “think-and-do tank,” rather than simply a think tank.

Pitkin County granted limited expansion rights to RMI in a land-use review in 2007. RMI officials wanted approval for a larger expansion, including the construction of employee housing.

The relocation into Basalt will eliminate one of the few clouds hanging over the esteemed institution – promoting energy efficiency from a rural site located approximately four miles off Highway 82 and eight miles from the closest town.

RMI will work on a development proposal for a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient facility at the Basalt site next year, so relocation to the town likely won’t occur until 2012 at the earliest, Pickett said.

If RMI relocates as planned, the Windstar property has a conservation easement which “ensures perpetual preservation,” RMI said in a press release.

A staff of about 25 workers is employed at Old Snowmass in areas such as operations, development and communications, Pickett said. Those workers would relocate to Basalt, and there would be potential for growth. Another 60 employees work in Boulder, where RMI would maintain facilities for strategic reasons, she said.

In addition to an office, the Basalt site will feature facilities that can host RMI-led meetings with industry groups on energy-related issues, Pickett said. The facility will also be a showcase of sustainable design and construction, with limited hours of public access.

Basalt acquired the Levinson property in 2002 and converted a portion of the property closest to the Roaring Fork River into Old Pond Park. The future homes of the Roaring Fork Conservancy and RMI were eyed for redevelopment.

The $600,000 asking price for the RMI parcel was established in an appraisal last spring. Kane said the property held its value despite the recession. The price is close to $25 per square foot, similar to what the conservancy paid for the adjacent property in 2005, he said.

The owners of the Tacqueria have known for years about the property being eyed for redevelopment. The town has an agreement to provide them with one year’s notice before they must vacate, Kane said. He wants to work with the restaurant to keep it in Basalt in a new location.


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