Stirling gauges city’s interest in Explore | AspenTimes.com

Stirling gauges city’s interest in Explore

Abigail Eagye

In his quest to ensure that Explore Booksellers and Bistro remains a bookstore, Bill Stirling approached Aspen’s City Council Tuesday to see if he might find any kind of financial support.The former mayor and real estate broker specifically wondered if the council would entertain the idea of making a short-term loan, should he and a group of investors he’s forming fail to come up with the $5.2 million purchase price by the end of the week.Stirling’s group has already raised roughly $1.5 million, he said, but he’s concerned that at the same rate its taken to raise that money, they won’t have enough to buy the property by his self-imposed deadline at the end of the week.”Would the city entertain helping on the public side by coming up with the balance,” he asked the council. He explained that any money from the city essentially would be a short-term loan.He earned an immediate and resounding “yes” from councilmen Torre and J.E. DeVilbiss.”I’m on your side, Bill,” DeVilbiss said. “I’ll do what I can.”Councilwoman Rachel Richards was supportive but wanted assurances that the city could back out of the deal if necessary. Stirling said that wouldn’t be a problem.Councilman Jack Johnson also showed support, but he didn’t want the city to be the first investor.”I’m personally all for it,” he said. But “as a matter of public policy, I refuse for the city to be the first group.”He also questioned the urgency of the request.”I don’t understand why the estate couldn’t have said, ‘We’ll give you X amount of time to raise this money,'” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure he could commit to it by the end of the week.”That’s an artificial date that I set,” Stirling said, explaining that time was of the essence because the store is already on the market.Johnson wondered if Stirling would be given priority as a buyer, considering his connection to the sellers. The store belonged to Stirling’s wife, Katharine Thalberg, who died in January. One of her three daughters has been running the store from Washington, D.C., using local managers, but she said recently that her family can no longer continue to operate it.Stirling said it’s not safe to assume he or his investors would be given priority.Mayor Helen Klanderud had reservations about the asking price for the property and Stirling’s unwillingness to release the names of the potential investors.”I really can’t go there, Bill,” she said. “I just don’t see it.”At the start of the meeting, Stirling offered a general disclosure of his “minor,” indirect interest in the current business. Although he could not give details about his late wife’s estate, he did disclose that he has a “beneficiary interest in the estate.”Stirling assured the council that his efforts to find local purchasers are on the buyers’ side only. He is trying to put together a group of investors to buy the store; he previously pledged to give half of his commission in the sale to a “community fund” to which locals could contribute. The fund, he said, is to be used for special improvement projects at the store if it is not applied toward the purchase. On Tuesday, he upped his contribution to 100 percent of his commission.In addition, Stirling said he will likely oversee the limited liability corporation he’s assembling to buy the store. He would not be the daily manager of the store, but he wanted potential investors to be confident that someone who is familiar with the operations at the bookstore would be involved.”Explore is sort of a private effort that rose to the status of being an institution,” he told the council. “It’s one of the last, good, best places.”After the meeting, he added, “The gain is in trying to save it.”Stirling left the meeting with the support of “three and a half” members of the council, Johnson said, counting himself as the half, with Torre, Richards and DeVilbiss lending their support. At the council’s suggestion, Stirling’s next step will be to approach members of the city’s staff, including the city manager.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com

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