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Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Years ago ” exactly how many years, I don’t quite remember ” what is now the Miners Building was just a hole in the ground.

Pretty much every building was once just a hole in the ground, I suppose, but what made the Miners Building noteworthy was the fact that it remained a hole in the ground for a very long time.

The project started with great energy and enthusiasm ” and an enormous hole in the ground. Then it just stopped.

Bang. Dead. Nothing happening.

No one seemed to know whether the reason everything stopped was personal, professional, financial, local or national.

All we knew was that there was a huge hole in the ground, hidden behind a plywood construction fence.

Months passed, many months ” and eventually someone painted “Fill dirt wanted” on that plywood fence and all of Aspen had a good laugh. (Except, I imagine, Carl Bergman, who was putting up that building.)

Obviously, whatever problems halted construction were finally solved and the Miners Building was completed.

Not that the Miners Building was Aspen’s only famous hole-in-the-ground stalled construction project.

One of the most notable was the old Aspen Inn, prominently located on upper Mill Street, well up on the base of Aspen Mountain. In its heyday in the early 1970s, the inn was famous for, among other things, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concerts and wet T-shirt contests. In any case, as I recall, a massive renovation project began there and then stalled, leaving a half-completed building looming over town for what seemed like years.

And, adding the perfect tacky final touch, some departing construction worker pained “Hi Aspen!” in enormous sloppy letters on the most prominent unfinished wall.

I mention these examples of empty holes and stalled projects because it seems as if we are entering a new era in which holes once again remain empty and projects remain stalled.

Perhaps our most conspicuous hole in the ground these days is the one that was supposed to sprout into a Whole Foods market in El Jebel.

And, while I’m thinking about it, that particular sad monument to bad timing, bad luck and a bad economy really needs the exact same kind of merciful disguise that the Miners Building hole in the ground enjoyed.

Hey guys! Put up a fence! Hide your shame!

Not that Hole Foods … oops, Whole Foods is the only one.

Projects are stalled all over the valley. Start dates and completion dates are shuffled wildly. Lawsuits emerge from the mud, the same mud that dreams of vast wealth are sinking into.

I know, of course, that people are suffering. Jobs are lost. People are out of work.

I do not, however, feel terribly sad for the developers. I’m not casting developers as villains here. They’re just people who gambled on making a lot of money and seem to be in the process of losing that bet.

“No guts, no glory” sounds like a great battle cry at the top of a ski run ” but you have to remember that the requirement for “guts” is based on the possibility of painful disaster.

Suddenly, local governments’ growth-control philosophies don’t seem so terrible. Although annoying to people who are in a hurry to make their fortune, growth controls have saved the valley from looking like the cratered surface of the moon.

And perhaps there are other benefits to stopping for a moment to take a deep breath.

As one clear-eyed local resident recently pointed out in a letter to the editor, “The Lift One area is a thing of perfection in its present state. … Do we need more beds, more cars, more cranes, more waste?”

I know. People are suffering. But still, with the pressure off, we get the chance to ask whether the Lift One area is really such a disgraceful blight on the fair face of Aspen. Maybe it’s just a quiet little corner of town that wasn’t really hurting anybody.

If everything had raced along according to the developers’ schedule, we’d probably have one huge festering hole in the ground there right now. And that would indeed be a nasty blister on the fair face of Aspen.

But sadder, in a way, than empty holes are empty houses.

We have one of those in our neighborhood. No one lives in it. No one ever has. And I’m beginning to wonder if anyone ever will.

It is, of course, a “spec house” ” an edifice on a foundation of greed, decorated with the tinsel of fantasy, conceived, designed and built during the steepest part of the rising curve of what we now call the housing bubble.

The builder talked about how this was going to be “like nothing anyone’s ever seen” in our modest midvalley neighborhood. There was all the usual background noise about Italian-this and Tuscan-that and exclusive-something-else.

But the one thing that was definitely never-seen-before in our vicinity was the price tag. It was roughly a million dollars more than any house in the area had ever sold for.

But, as John Lennon said, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

And life slammed broadside into this house ” and the plans of the men who conceived it, built it and paid for it.

My wife, a kind-hearted creature, feels sorry for the house itself. She says a house should be loved; it should be lived in. Sometimes, when we drive past, she calls out, “Don’t worry, little house. Someone will love you.”

Personally, not being nearly as nice as my wife, I tend not to feel sorry for inanimate objects. (Besides, maybe the house prefers not having inhabitants ” just as a dog prefers not having fleas.)

And, as I noted above, I also tend not to feel sorry for people who gamble on getting rich and wind up going broke instead. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Instead, I find myself thinking about that famous First Rule of Holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.

Or, as that unknown graffiti artist painted on the Miners Building construction fence: Fill dirt wanted.


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