Willits works to land specialty grocer | AspenTimes.com

Willits works to land specialty grocer

BASALT The developers of a large Basalt project are exploring ways to accommodate a specialty food supermarket, Town Manager Bill Efting confirmed recently.Efting said Willits Town Center partner Michael Lipkin met with town planners earlier this month to discuss potential changes to his land-use approvals. The Town Council granted an approval called a planned unit development to Willits Town Center in May 2001. Changing a PUD, which is relatively common, requires an amendment.The Aspen Times received a tip that Lipkin and his partners were exploring that route with the town staff. Efting acknowledged a meeting took place at Lipkin’s request. He said Lipkin wanted to complete the preliminary work so a proposal could advance to the Town Council “when [the developers] get their ducks in a row.”There has been nonstop speculation among midvalley residents for a couple of years that Willits is going to land a Whole Foods supermarket. The speculation intensified in recent months as Lipkin and his partners completed their first building in the core of their community and started construction on a second.A national development firm from Chicago, Joseph Freed and Associates, bought into Willits Town Center last year and is now handling the leasing of space. A representative of the company previously said landing an anchor tenant is a top goal.Lipkin has repeatedly declined comment on negotiations with any particular companies. He will only say that landing a natural grocer is a priority.Whole Foods representatives have said repeatedly that they will not comment on rumors or negotiations. They only discuss new stores when a deal is signed.The Willits Town Center earned approval for about 250,000 square feet of commercial space and 400 condos and lofts. Lipkin sought and received approvals for small commercial spaces because he wants the development to resemble the core of a traditional town rather than a mall.The largest individual commercial space in Willits Town Center is about 20,000 square feet, excluding a hotel and related facilities, Lipkin previously told The Aspen Times.It will apparently take a larger space to land a specialty grocer. Whole Foods’ website says the average size of its 194 markets in the U.S. and United Kingdom is 32,000 square feet. There is a section on the Texas-based company’s website where people can suggest locations for new stores. The guidelines include sites that are within 20-minute drive times for 200,000 people; a large number of college-educated residents; room for a 40,000- to 75,000-square-foot store and excellent visibility.Willits Town Center doesn’t meet the population criteria, but there are a large number of college grads in the valley. The visibility of the project would be great since it’s just off Highway 82.The size requirement presents a challenge, at least as the project was approved. Efting said talks between Lipkin and the town staff thus far have concentrated on increasing the density.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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