Whole Foods will add jobs, boost Basalt’s economy | AspenTimes.com

Whole Foods will add jobs, boost Basalt’s economy

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado

BASALT – Whole Foods Market will create 100 to 120 jobs in Basalt once the grocery store opens in 2012, a spokesman for the company said Thursday.The natural and organic foods specialty grocer announced Wednesday that it signed a lease for a 26,000-square-foot supermarket at the Willits Town Center – just upvalley from the El Jebel City Market.”It’s show time. We’re really excited,” said Ben Friedland, marketing coordinator for Whole Foods’ Rocky Mountain Region.The store will open sometime next summer, depending on how construction progresses. “We don’t have an exact month at this point,” he said.This is the third time Whole Foods has signed a lease for a store at Willits Town Center. The initial lease, with a former owner of the property, was signed in May 2007 for a 44,000-square-foot store. When that project failed to progress because of the recession, Whole Foods signed a second lease with the former property owner, Joseph Freed & Associates, for a scaled-down store of about 26,000 square feet. Freed lost control of the property through foreclosure. Kansas-based Mariner Real Estate Management acquired the property in May.Ryan Anderson, co-president of Mariner Real Estate Management, said R.J. Griffin has been hired as the contractor for the project; that is the same company handling the expansion of Aspen Valley Hospital. Construction on the supermarket building will start in August, he said.Mariner officials haven’t talked about their plans much, but they started work to develop the project shortly after acquiring the site. They have cleaned up construction areas that Freed had abandoned, and they are performing earth moving in an area that will be surface parking for Whole Foods. They also acquired a permit from the town of Basalt to work on the structure of the building.”We took the approach that we needed to lead by example,” Anderson said.Freed’s team completed the concrete foundation of the building and much of the infrastructure before it ran out of financing in September 2007. Tests show that foundation can still be used, Anderson said.An official familiar with the project estimated that one-third of the work on the building is complete, so work on the remainder could progress rapidly once it begins. The Basalt Town Council amended the approvals while Freed still owned the property to allow construction of a one-story building. The initial plan was to build housing above the supermarket.Basalt officials are eager to see the steel go up in the air: “This is something we’ve been working on for some time,” said Basalt town manager Bill Kane. The “hand-wringing” over the fate of the project is over, and now the “exciting” work begins, he said.Kane and Mayor Leroy Duroux said the resumption of construction on the building should boost confidence in Basalt’s economy. Enlisting a high-traffic anchor tenant like Whole Foods will draw attention from local and regional retailers and businesses who might ultimately locate into Willits Town Center, according to Kane. “This could have a domino effect,” he said.Duroux said he is “optimistically confident” that the project will really move ahead this time.Anderson said re-signing Whole Foods was a top priority for Mariner. The grocer fits the valley perfectly and will draw people to Willits Town Center, he said. “I think it’s a great start.”Willits Town Center is approved for about 500,000 square feet of residential and commercial space, including a hotel. But the approvals were made in more booming economic times. It’s uncertain how long it would take to build-out the project in this economic climate.Friedland said Whole Foods officials remains confident that a store in Basalt would be successful despite the changed economic conditions. Shoppers from Aspen and elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley already visit Whole Foods Markets in the Denver area, he said.The Basalt store will be smaller than what the grocer has built in the past and slightly smaller than the current average for new stores: The average size of 16 stores opened in fiscal year 2010 was 42,600 square feet, according to the company’s quarterly earnings report released Wednesday; the average of the eight new leases is 30,400 square feet.The Basalt store will have everything the company’s other markets have – groceries, meat and prepared foods. “You’ll just see it in a smaller scale,” Friedland said, adding it will sell many locally produced foods.The Basalt store will have special characteristics as the company’s first entry in the mountain-resort market, Friedland said. As in other new stores in the Rocky Mountain region, the decor will feature beetle-killed pine, he said.Mariner will turn over the shell of the building to Whole Foods, which will have its own crews finish the structure.Friedland said Whole Foods typically starts accepting online job applications for grocery store workers three to four months before its stores open. It will also hold job fairs in the Roaring Fork Valley prior to the opening.The company has consistently been among Fortune Magazine’s top 100 employers in the country.scondon@aspentimes.com