Marolt: The brilliant Mr. Hunt
Mark Hunt is the most brilliant person in Aspen. So long, Albert. Cast Mr. Hunt’s bust and prop it up in Paepcke Park. I’m not kidding. The evidence is becoming inarguable.
His ascendency began modestly enough. Mr. Hunt bought, among a quiver of other properties downtown, the incredibly lousy, old, awkwardly angled, concrete building with a weird garden level that nobody wanted at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. for $10 million in 2014, according to assessor records. The experts said he got taken to the cleaners.
Four years later, he negotiated a contract to sell just the top floor and basement of a reimagination of that building for a whopping $23 million. I think you will have to admit that Mr. Hunt is at least smarter than the potential buyers who signed that contract, right? Well, that would be us, you and me, the Taxpaying Citizens of Aspen! Mr. Hunt is clearly ranked first in our class.
Sure, he will have to spend nearly $8 million to rebuild halfway decent offices for the city there, but that still leaves him with enough profit to about double his money. Plus, by agreement, he gets to keep the street-level retail part of the building, worth another not-so-small fortune. How can anyone argue that isn’t brilliant?
You are certainly not going to discredit him by asking an appraiser. Randy Gold is one of the best and most respected in this town. He told the city that the building was worth somewhere in the range of $18 million to $20 million. In other words, Mr. Hunt got the city to sign a contract to buy the top floor and basement of a downtown Aspen building for $3 million to $5 million more than it is worth. That’s almost magically brilliant!
Of course, there was the moment when this contract was on the verge of expiring where Mr. Hunt risked looking like the fool himself for even presenting such a preposterous idea. But, Mr. Hunt somehow convinced the city to ask him to extend the contract to which request he happily obliged and now looks more brilliant then ever! I am telling you, the dude is amazing!
But, that’s not all. Mr. Hunt also talked us into buying 5,500 square feet of gorgeous rooftop space next door, above Lululemon for around $9.5 million. That’s about $1,725 per square foot. To put that into layman’s terms, that is what some penthouses have sold for.
Of course, we have no use for a penthouse in our government operations, so how did Mr. Hunt convince us? He told us it would be perfect for government offices! And, we fell for it. … Again. It is brilliant! Brilliant! Berrrriiiliantisimoso!!!, for the gibberish-speaking among us.
The backdrop to all of this is that we could build about 13,000 more square feet of city offices, to our exact specifications, on our own property for about $6 million less. The person who can convince us that this is a bad idea is far more brilliant than we.
There’s more. A few years ago, you might recall, Mr. Hunt fell victim to a citizen’s initiative that took the approval process out of City Hall and placed it in the voting booths. It resulted in the electoral defeat of Mr. Hunt’s plan to build an affordable hotel with no parking. A victory for Aspen? Perhaps, but Pyrrhic most likely.
Brilliant people know to make windmills rather than shelters in a windstorm. Mr. Hunt is capitalizing on the voters’ initiative getting these current, one-sided contracts out of City Hall’s hands where in-house attorneys, planners and appraisers might eventually set things straight. Now, with the issue jammed into the ballot box, the city no longer has the wherewithal to back out of the very contracts they signed and extended. Brilliant!
Many voters see Mr. Hunt’s plan as a means to limit construction downtown. They reason that, if we put city offices in buildings that Mr. Hunt is going to rebuild anyway, there will be no need to build on the city’s Rio Grande land and, therefore, nobody will. I don’t know where they got this idea, but whoever planted the seed was brilliant.
No sooner had that idea been cinched then Mr. Hunt began to somewhat quietly circulate the prospect of a new convention center being built on the Rio Grande site. It would host concerts, exhibitions, shows, outdoor markets and even skiing for the kiddies on a regraded slope from the top of the parking garage into Rio Grande Park. It would be fantastic for the town, he says. What he doesn’t have to say is that it would be even better for the proud new owners of the commercial properties down there on North Mill Street.
Like I said, brilliant.
Roger Marolt thinks Mark Hunt is the smartest developer to hit our streets since J.B. Wheeler. Email at email@example.com.