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Tenants trusting Obermeyer plans

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

By this time next year, about two dozen Aspen businesses will be packing up and moving somewhere else so their current place of business can be bulldozed.

Nearly two years later, they’ll pack up again and move back.

When they return, it will be to the brand-new digs of Obermeyer Place, the proposed redevelopment of a hodgepodge of buildings bordering Rio Grande Place and East Bleeker Street, across the street from Rio Grande Park.

What is now a pocket of funky dwellings and service/industrial businesses will be razed to make way for a new neighborhood of shops, residences and medical offices.

Existing tenants will have a place in the redevelopment. All they have to do is remain in business somewhere else for 18 months or more. That means securing temporary quarters that meet their needs, but go for the relatively reasonable rents they pay now. That means hoping their customers can find them – will make the effort to find them – while they’re operating elsewhere.

If tenants are surprisingly optimistic about the whole thing, it’s for one reason: Klaus Obermeyer Sr.

He is the landlord to many of the tenants and the man behind the redevelopment, which he proposed in order to provide his tenants with better space than the tired buildings they call home now.

If Obermeyer says the tenants will be taken care of, it will happen, declared Jeff Moonitz, owner of Rocky Mountain Martial Arts and a longtime tenant in the former Sport Obermeyer factory building along Rio Grande Place.

“Klaus has indicated he has a place for us to operate during the interim,” Moonitz said. “His word is better than a signed contract from someone else.”

“I feel very comfortable with Obermeyer being the developer,” agreed Beth Gill, owner of The Aspen Branch, a florist. “They don’t want any of us to go out of business.”

“We don’t want there to be any casualties,” confirmed Tim Belinski, chief financial officer with Sport Obermeyer. “We know these people and they’re important. It’s not just a business deal.”

Though Obermeyer is the landlord for most of the existing tenants in the neighborhood, two other property owners, Bill Murphy and Gailen Smith, are also committed to making sure their tenants have suitable temporary quarters. Buildings owned by all three landlords will be replaced with the redevelopment.

Obermeyer is working with all the commercial tenants who will be displaced, not just its own tenants, Belinski said.

Although Obermeyer Place has yet to receive final approval from the city, the developers aim to break ground in April 2004 and have the project ready for occupants by the end of 2005. That may be overly optimistic, conceded project architect Bob Schiller; it’s possible the new buildings won’t be ready until early in 2006, he said.

With a year before work begins, Obermeyer is looking at options to house businesses as diverse as an auto repair shop, ski tuner, glass shop, gym, tax office, pet groomer and a printer during the construction phase.

It’s a challenge, Belinski conceded.

Warehouse space Obermeyer has available at the Aspen Business Center is one option, especially for tenants who use their existing space mainly for storage.

Others feel it’s essential to remain in town if they are to stay in business.

“They told me where they want to put me. I think I can make it work,” said Joe Vernier, owner of the Bleeker Street Gym. “If that particular space does work out, that would be fine with me. If it doesn’t, I’m in trouble. If the gym doesn’t stay in this neighborhood, it’ll go away.”

Obermeyer has approached the city about leasing the nearby Aspen Youth Center building for some tenants, as well as the adjacent Zupancis property, now owned by the city, according to Belinski. The youth center will be moving to its new quarters at the Aspen Recreation Center this spring.

Both sites are ideal as temporary spots for some tenants because they are quite close to their existing locales, he said.

“The closer these businesses stay to where they are, the better it’s going to be for them,” he said.

Gill said she has requested a spot in town as opposed to, for example, moving her entire operation to the ABC.

“Hopefully, there will be enough community awareness that people will know we’ll be somewhere,” she said.

Although nothing is definite yet, Aspen Custom Glass and Showers owner Keith Schenkelberg said he is satisfied with the temporary locale that Obermeyer has suggested for his shop.

“Everything they have proposed sounds fine. They’ve come up with some good plans,” he said.

Corene McGovern, who owns Mittel Europa with her mother, is a little concerned about finding temporary quarters for their business, which sells antiques and furnishes spec homes for developers.

“We’re not sure if we’re going to be able to get the same size space somewhere in town, so yeah, we’re terrified about that, but we’re excited about being here when it’s finished,” she said.

“The inconvenience of having to move, even though it’s really scary, is outweighed by the benefits we’ll reap,” she said.

In fact, several tenants expressed excitement about the new space they will call home when Obermeyer Place is finished.

“This building has seen better days,” said Moonitz at the martial arts studio. “Leaking roof, exorbitant heating bills. I think whatever happens, it’s going to be a vast improvement.”

Schenkelberg, who has reviewed the sketches of the proposed redevelopment, is pleased with what he sees.

“It’s gorgeous. I know right were we’re going to be.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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