Whole Foods for Willits?
BASALT The owners of the Willits Town Center project in Basalt are inching closer to inking a deal with specialty grocer Whole Foods, sources familiar with the negotiations confirmed Tuesday.While no contract has been signed yet – contrary to widespread discussions among midvalley residents – an announcement is expected in May, sources said.That coincides with the release of the next quarterly report to investors by Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods. The company’s policy is to release plans for new stores only in those quarterly reports, a Whole Foods spokeswoman said earlier this year.Whole Foods’ public relations team didn’t return repeated telephone calls Tuesday.Michael Lipkin, an owner in the Willits Town Center, remained tight-lipped Tuesday about his efforts to land a specialty-foods store.”It’s something I’ve been working on. Beyond that, I can’t say anything,” he said.Lipkin is largely responsible for the vision for the new village in west Basalt. He failed to win approval for the project from Eagle County in the 1990s, but teamed with Basalt Trade Associates to earn approval from the town early this decade.Since then, Basalt Trade Associates partners Clay Crossland and Paul Adams sold their interest in the Willits Town Center to Joseph Freed and Associates of Chicago.The residential portion of Willits has approvals for 550 single-family homes, condos and townhouses. The Willits Town Center will eventually total 250,000 square feet of commercial space and 400 lofts and condominiums.Lipkin has made it clear from the start that his goal was to land a specialty grocer in the town center. After his initial approval, he returned to the Basalt Town Council to alter the design so he could increase his chances of attracting such a tenant.Wendy Lucas, a real estate broker who has the exclusive listings for the residential portion of Willits, hinted on her weekly local radio show Friday that Willits Town Center was close to landing a major tenant.Lucas said Lipkin-Warner Architects was working on an environmentally friendly design for “one of the larger retailers” that will locate in Willits.When asked Tuesday to elaborate on her comment, Lucas said, “I believe it’s a specialty-food store.” She said she was told to expect an announcement in May.Joseph Freed and Associates took over oversight of the construction and leasing space in the Willits Town Center once it bought into the project last year. The company’s leasing agent for the project, Pam Brady Ferrara, said earlier this year that signing an anchor tenant, such as a specialty supermarket, was a primary goal.Whole Foods is the giant in its industry. It reached an agreement in February to acquire and merge with competitor Wild Oats.Joseph Freed and Associates is erecting a second commercial and residential building in the Willits core and has prepared several other sites for excavation. The only building permits the developers currently hold is for the structure under construction, according to Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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