Aspen’s downtown space to nowhere may get a shot of vitality
After eight years of unsuccessfully trying to fill a downtown commercial space with an affordably priced restaurant, Aspen City Council has decided to give up on restricting the menu prices of any future eatery that takes over.
The basement space at 508 E. Cooper Ave. has been empty since shortly after the city settled a lawsuit with the developers of the building in 2008.
The owners of the property, which was home to the Cooper Street Pier and Lucci’s Italian restaurant for decades, sued City Council after it rejected a redevelopment proposal.
The city agreed to allow the property to be redeveloped into a four-story building with a penthouse on top. A high-end clothier, Bruno Cucinelli, is currently located on the street level.
In exchange, the developers, who included real estate investors Andrew Hecht and his son Nikos, as well as Ron Garfield and Joshua Saslove, agreed to restrictions on the basement space that would command below free-market rent.
But the settlement agreement didn’t contemplate the over $1 million needed to finish the space, which has kept potential tenants or buyers away from turning it into a restaurant.
“It’s obviously not working and it hasn’t for eight years,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein said Tuesday during a work session regarding commercial vitality.
Councilman Bert Myrin suggested lifting the menu price restriction, saying the resort town thrives with restaurants, which also serve as community gathering places.
The majority of council agreed to eliminate the menu price restrictions placed on the space and see if that attracts any restaurateurs.
If it doesn’t, council will consider allowing additional uses such as a fitness facility like a gym or a yoga studio to see if there is any interest from other entrepreneurs.
Denis Murray, who works for the city’s building department, said infrastructure in the space is set up for a restaurant to go in there. The challenge, he said, is attracting someone who is willing to put the investment in but not be able to get a return because the menu prices are set too low by the city.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said while she supports pursuing different uses in the space, she agreed to try a restaurant first.
“The point is to get something down there,” she said.
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Rule breakers of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority may have to face a hearing officer and fines if they don’t come into compliance with the deed restrictions on their units.