Whole Foods gives Willits another try | AspenTimes.com

Whole Foods gives Willits another try

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

BASALT – Whole Foods Market reached an agreement Friday with the new owner of Willits Town Center to open a grocery store at the Basalt development, a source familiar with the deal said.It is the third time the natural grocer has signed a lease for a store at Willits.The two previous leases – signed with the prior owner of Willits Town Center – were nullified by the owner’s inability to construct a building. Those deals were victims of the recession.Kansas-based Mariner breathed new life into the project with the acquisition of Willits Town Center in May. A top Mariner official said at the time the company’s goal was to re-sign Whole Foods as the anchor tenant and restart construction “soon.”The new lease is for a 26,000-square-foot store, according to the source, who didn’t want to be named for lack of authorization to speak about the deal. The agreement requires Mariner to turn over the shell of the building to Whole Foods before the end of this year. The national grocery chain’s own crew will finish the building, including all of the interior. The opening of the supermarket is expected to be in the summer of 2012.The Willits Town Center-Whole Foods saga has had more twists and turns than the national debt limit debate, through no fault of the grocer.Whole Foods signed its first lease for a 44,000-square-foot market at Willits Town Center in May 2007. The prior owner of the development, Chicago-based Joseph Freed & Associates (JFA), started construction of the building and completed the foundation and much of the infrastructure before running out of financing at the start of the recession. Construction stalled in September 2008.Whole Foods’ original lease expired in June 2009 when the owner and developer couldn’t turn over the shell of the building. However, the two sides negotiated a new lease for a smaller store in March 2010. Whole Foods terminated that lease in frustration in March 2011 for lack of progress.JFA lost control of the project last year, partially through foreclosure on the property by the lender, Bank of America, and partially through litigation by construction firms that didn’t get paid for their work.Mariner made the successful bid to acquire the project and it has wasted no time moving ahead. It received a permit Wednesday from the town of Basalt to work on the structure of the building. That will allow the company’s contractor to erect the steel frame. Mariner has also applied for a building permit for later phases of construction, town officials said.scondon@aspentimes.com

• May 2007: Whole Foods Market signs a lease with Joseph Freed and Associates (JFA), the prior owner of Willits Town Center, to open a 44,000-square-foot grocery store to anchor the development. Construction is delayed while the owners attempt to amend their land-use approvals with the town of Basalt.• September 2008: JFA completes the foundation and infrastructure of the Whole Foods Market building, then runs out of financing. Construction stalls.• June 2009: Whole Foods terminates its lease when JFA cannot deliver the shell of the building.• March 2010: Whole Foods signs a new lease with JFA for a store reduced to roughly 26,000 square feet.• April 2010: JFA loses control of the project when Bank of America forecloses on some of the property and millions of dollars of mechanics’ liens are filed on other parcels.• March 2011: Whole Foods terminates its lease at Willits Town Center, citing the ongoing uncertainty of development of the project.• May 2011: A subsidiary of Mariner Wealth Advisors of Kansas City acquires the bulk of Willits Town Center. The company announces intentions to restart construction and re-sign Whole Foods Market as the anchor tenant.• July 2011: Whole Foods and Mariner reach an agreement. A supermarket is expected to open in summer 2012.

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