Whole Foods hasn’t soured on Basalt store
BASALT – A top official with Whole Foods Market said the natural grocer is still interested in opening a store in Basalt even though it can opt out of another lease because of a lack of construction this month.
Will Paradise, regional president, Rocky Mountain Region, said the company can remain patient despite the ongoing uncertainty over which development firm will end up in control of the Willits Town Center project in Basalt.
“We’re just on the wait-and-hold program,” Paradise said. “We want to do the site. That’s where we’re at.”
Whole Foods signed a contract with Chicago developer Joseph Freed and Associates (JFA) in May 2007 to open a 44,000-square-foot store that would anchor Willits Town Center. JFA completed the foundation and much of the infrastructure of the building, then ran out of money. Construction stalled on Labor Day weekend 2008. The contract with the grocer expired when the shell of the building couldn’t be delivered on June 1, 2009.
Whole Foods renewed a lease in March for a smaller space at Willits. The company scaled its store down to 25,000 square feet to meet the realities of the post-recession economy.
But only one month after JFA re-signed Whole Foods as an anchor tenant, the development firm faced a foreclosure action by its lender. Bank of America claimed JFA defaulted on loans with $36.1 million remaining on the principal. It moved to foreclose on the majority of the undeveloped land in Willits Town Center, and placed the only bid in a foreclosure sale Sept. 15.
The Whole Foods site wasn’t part of the foreclosure. A judge blocked that property from being sold at the foreclosure sale because of a claim by contractors that they have a superior lien. That dispute was scheduled to go before a judge this month.
Meanwhile, JFA is negotiating to try to buy back Willits Town Center from Bank of America. A spokesman for the receiver, appointed by a court to run the day-to-day operations of Willits Town Center until the ownership is ironed out, said earlier this month “there are multiple parties looking closely at the Willits assets.”
Whole Foods’ most recent lease required that land use approvals for the small store be acquired by late September and that construction commence on the store at the beginning of October, according to representations in public meetings made by a spokesman for JFA and the court-appointed receiver. Terms weren’t met, so the second contract could be voided by Whole Foods.
Paradise said Whole Foods is willing to work with JFA or any other developer, as long as terms from the most recent contract are honored. The missed deadline doesn’t kill the deal, he said. It has more effect on timing.
“We’re patient. We want to move forward with it,” Paradise said.
“I’ve said from day one, we want to be there. It’s the right place,” he added.
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Pitkin County administrators are proposing a more than $142 million budget for 2020, which is about $6 million less than this year because of fewer construction projects and capital improvements.