Saving the Mall | AspenTimes.com

Saving the Mall

Steve Benson

Most of the time it sits empty. Its buildings, many of which are nearing 40 years old, are on their last legs.And with a new Base Village for Snowmass Ski Area approved, the Snowmass Village Mall is in serious danger of becoming a permanent no man’s land. But help is on the way.Over the past couple of months, the Snowmass Village town staff has directed a major effort to bring mall owners together to agree on ways to revive the area, also called the West Village. By doing so, the town has fulfilled a promise it made during the Base Village review that the mall would not be forgotten. During that time, many mall owners expressed fear about competing with Base Village, which will add 64,000 square feet of new commercial space to the town, primarily at the base of Fanny Hill (the mall sits alongside Fanny Hill, above the base). But in the early stages of the review process, the Town Council made it clear to Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co., the developers, that a people-mover connecting Base Village and the mall was a must. As a result, a Cabriolet connector will be installed in the initial construction phases of Base Village.

Once skeptics, mall owners are now lauding the town for its efforts. “The town is saying all the right things and doing all the right things,” said John Francis, who owns the Gateway Building at the west end of the mall. He’s been opposed to Base Village from the beginning, but claims his objections have been driven by the size of the development, not future competitors.”There’s been good cooperation from the mall property owners; they’re on the right track,” Francis added. “And I think [the town] has got their head on right.”To replace or renovateThe process is still in the early stages, but the revitalization of the mall could include anything from toppling and rebuilding existing structures to a simple renovation.”We’re not going to the drawing board with any real constraints on the exercise,” said Carey Shanks, the town’s economic resource director and a key player in the process. “We have everybody at the table, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, is everybody into opening ourselves up to real possibilities here?’ And the answer is ‘yes.'”

Longtime Snowmass Village resident Mark Moebius, whose family owns the Snowmass Inn, said a major overhaul is not just a pipe dream, but a necessity. “The building I own was built in 1967 – it’s past its usefulness,” he said.But aside from reviving dying buildings, Moebius said, the entire mall needs an overhaul simply to stay alive – with or without Base Village.The alternative, he said, is that the mall will become “the blight area of Snowmass.””In order for this mall to function and not become the redheaded stepchild of Base Village, it has to be able to function as a viable node of Snowmass Village,” he added. “This is going to have to be a happening place up here in order for it to survive, even if Base Village doesn’t come along. We need to see the mall revitalized. It’s a must at this point.” Shanks said anything is possible.

“I think we’re all on the same page today – we know what the issues are, we know what the barriers are, and we know what needs to be worked on,” he said. “Now that we begin to understand what development proposals might look like, let’s measure that against the realities of the market and the economics.”A uniter, not a dividerTown officials don’t know how much the town might invest in the project, but private investors have stepped forward. The town has hired Denver-based Leland Consulting Group to facilitate a partnership between mall stakeholders and the town; BlueGreen, the Aspen landscape architecture and site-planning firm, has also been hired to aid the planning process. The fact that the town has directed this effort, and succeeded in bringing all the mall owners together, is seen as sort of a coup. “I’ve seen a lot of elements concerned about mall redevelopment come to the table over the years,” said Doug Mercatoris, Snowmass Village’s newly appointed mayor and owner of the Mountain Dragon restaurant on the mall, in a recent press release. “But this is the first time I’ve seen everyone approach the discussion with a win-win mentality.” Moebius was equally surprised and excited.

“It’s a huge change, it’s exciting, and its encouraging,” he said. “I’m happy and proud to be a part of the process.” But the town and mall owners don’t want to make all the decisions by themselves. “We’re interested in bringing the community along with us to make sure there are no land mines in the middle of this process,” he said. An open house, which will include presentation booths, is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 22, at the Snowmass Conference Center from 6 to 8 p.m. and the public is encouraged to attend.Perhaps Snowmass Village has been moving in this direction of more open cooperation and community involvement for a while now. During the Base Village review, many community members felt that the previous Town Council, and staff, had all but signed off on the huge development from the beginning. When current Councilman John Wilkinson was elected earlier this month, he said, “The message I get is it’s time for a change in Snowmass Village.” He added that he had specific reasons for making such a statement, but hesitated to elaborate, saying only, “It’s a message to everyone that voted for me and gave me the first-place vote.”

Wilkinson and several other candidates mentioned mall revitalization as a high priority. Mercatoris said the prior council, which he was a part of, was always open to public comment, but the community is just now taking a proactive role in Snowmass Village’s future. “I wish that we would have had folks on board through the entire process, but it’s good to see people starting to come together at this point,” Mercatoris said. “Now that we’re through Base Village, it’s time for the community to come together and work together on this.” Still, while Francis appreciates the town’s effort, he remains suspicious about just how much the town will invest in the project.”They’re basically looking at the property owners to do everything and they’re denying the reality that the town hasn’t invested any money there ever,” he said.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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