Skico: Midvalley purchase saves employee housing
EL JEBEL A top Aspen Skiing Co. official said Thursday that an El Jebel apartment complex would disappear as affordable housing if the Skico’s weren’t acquiring it.Skico attorney Dave Bellack said critics of the pending purchase aren’t factoring in what market forces would do if the Skico hadn’t planned to buy and preserve the 62-unit complex as employee affordable housing.”Apartment buildings get converted to condominium buildings almost inevitably,” Bellack said.He believes it was just a matter of time before “some astute investors” obtained the Sopris View Apartments, condominiumized them and sold them for prices outside workers’ budgets.Instead, the Skico has a contract to buy the apartments from longtime Basalt businessmen Paul Adams and Clay Crossland. The Skico is performing all the normal presale studies and could close on the property by July, Bellack said.The Skico announced the deal earlier this week and said residents of the 62 two-bedroom, two-bath apartments wouldn’t have to move for at least one year from the closing date. Full-time, year-round Skico employees will replace existing tenants as demand warrants.Some midvalley elected officials, activists and residents of Sopris View criticized the Skico’s purchase for displacing people from affordable housing. Rents there are hovering around $1,250 per month – about as good as it gets in the upper valley and midvalley.Some observers questioned how the purchase helps the Roaring Fork Valley ease its affordable housing crisis when one group of employees will displace another.Bellack countered Thursday that Sopris View Apartments wouldn’t remain in the affordable housing stock for long, based on evident trends in the real estate market. Any apartment building in Aspen that isn’t deed-restricted as apartments has long been converted and sold as condos, he said. The same trends are affecting the midvalley, although prices aren’t as high.Recent deals in Basalt and the midvalley attest that investors are eyeing existing property for conversion into money-making developments. Aspen investors purchased the Green Drake Inn, an affordable hotel in downtown Basalt, for $4.4 million in January. That was nearly $2.9 million more than its selling price in June 2003.Next door to the Sopris View Apartments, the former Fitzsimmons gas station and car wash sold for $4,245,000. The buyer is working on an application for free-market and affordable housing with commercial space.Les Gray, a Basalt-based property appraiser, agreed with Bellack that the Sopris View Apartments were a prime candidate for conversion to condos: “Absolutely, that was going to happen sooner or later,” he said.Gray said property values are appreciating so rapidly that nearly every free-market, affordable unit in the midvalley has already been converted.”Every single unit that’s not tied down, so to speak, will be unaffordable,” Gray said. “If it’s not already unaffordable, it will be next week.”Converting Sopris View to condos would make sense for virtually every buyer except a large employer, like the Skico, the school district or the hospitals, Gray said. They benefit from being able to house large numbers of employees.Midvalley condominiums similar to what Sopris View might have been are going for about $450,000 right now, Gray said.”If you could make more money renting, there would be more apartment complexes,” he said. Sopris View was the only large rental complex he is aware of between Carbondale and Aspen.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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