Letter: Basalt project needs more review
The Basalt developer sales pitch that a four-story hotel and some townhomes on the newly uncovered river jewel in the center of old town Basalt is the best way to revitalize the historic village needs further examination. This proposed four-story hotel in old town Basalt is in addition to the new four-story, 100-plus room hotel that is nearing completion in Willits. Supporters of the old town four-story hotel and townhome development proposal have maintained that their plan will “cure” what they say are Basalt’s retail woes. In reality, the hotel and additional townhomes proposed would have a marginal effect on increasing retail traffic in old town at the great expense to the town’s ambiance, ultimate desirability and vibrancy in the future. Here are the three biggest contributing factors to old town Basalt’s retail woes that oppose the idea that heavy development of a hotel and townhomes in this pristine location would be more beneficial than honoring the river:
1. Retail spending in old town Basalt was driven largely by the wealth spin-off from the real estate bubble which conclusively burst in early 2009, dropping values more heavily in Basalt than nearly anywhere in the state, resulting in a plunge in consumer spending. The retailers in the newly constructed River Walk and Riverside Plaza developments were locked into paying very high “bubble rental rates” and few were in any position to weather the oncoming financial drought.
2. All brick and mortar stores suffered during the real estate market correction of 2009 to 2014. Internet sales siphoned off much of the demand during this same time, especially for items such as shoes, books and clothing. Basalt lost a bookstore and several clothing stores during this period.
3. Whole Foods opened in August of 2012 generating far more traffic than old town Basalt ever knew or will know, by offering Willits retailers significant traffic spin off. Lower rents in Willits drew more retail stores from old town to the Willits retail scene.
Old town Basalt, with some rents in process of adjusting to the new market, is now posed for regeneration and evolution. Basalt will become the best little town ever by magnifying its river presence. As the only town in North America having two gold medal trout rivers, Basalt may now finally be able to claim its prize. A true significant River Park in downtown Basalt would be the spawning ground for exciting and vibrant renewal based upon the future. Trying to recreate the bygone glory days of retail by building a four-story hotel and condominiums on what should become the most spectacular, and significant river park and event venue in the valley, seems a lot like killing Aesop’s mythical goose before she got to lay the first of an eternal supply of golden eggs.
With an amazing river park area preserved, heavy development in the remaining downtown areas would benefit from the spectacular and open River Park area instead of facing a wall.
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