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Aspen Has History of Developers with Multiple Properties


Aspen officials are considering two new affordable lodges in the main part of town. Chicago developer and transplant Mark Hunt is behind them. He gained attention earlier this year for purchasing multiple properties in Aspen, including the historic Crystal Palace.  Some locals have wondered aloud whether it’s a good idea to have one person buying so much property. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher files this story on whether it’s happened before-- and the mood now in Aspen about development.

“In general in a small resort town, its never a healthy thing when one entity controls too much," saysformer Mayor Bill Stirling. He was in office from 1983 to 1991, and isn't surprised by one entity or individual purchasing lots of property in Aspen.

“In the downtown core, there’s been a tradition, for probably forty years, of only a handful of owners dominating," Stiling continued. "So here comes another one to join that group.” 

Stirling list names like Tony Mazza  and Frank Woods, Stephen Marcus, Garfield & Hecht, and others. One of the buildings purchased by Hunt is home to Dominoes and the deli, Johnny McGuire’s, in Aspen. Stirling describes the kinds of buildings Hunt has purchased this way.

“He’s bought buildings that all need to be redone, by having a new owner, we’re going to look at some proposals that we’re already now beginning to look at. All things considered, that’s not a bad thing." 

Credit realaspen.com
Former Aspen Mayor John Bennett.

John Bennett is also a former Aspen mayor, and points out development has a tremendous influence on other factors in the Upper Valley in the last fifty years.

“Environmental issues, business issues, affordable housing issues, all of them are the children of growth, were it not for the pressure of growth, we wouldn’t have the other issues. Or we certainly wouldn’t have them to the degree that we have them today," says Bennett, who describes development as happening in cycles."What we see is a cycle. We have a, typically have a lot of development all at once, suddenly there’s a lot of new buildings in town. We saw this in the early and mid 1970’s, with the North of Nell, and the Concept 600 building.”

Bennett explains locals get concerned, and vote accordingly: “New people will be swept into office, and a new mayor and city council and new county commissioners in the county, will enact all kinds of growth control constraints. But then years go by, and we have a recession, and suddenly a hue and cry goes up: oh my god, we need more development, we need more business downtown.” 

And more hotels and other buildings are approved, before the next wave of restricting new growth. Bennett says right now is an in between stage."There’s a strong push to restrain growth," he explains, "but simultaneously we’re seeing the beginning of the next phase of oh my gosh, we need more hotel rooms and to do that have to allow more growth,  higher heights, and all of that."

Bennett is less concerned about the number of properties developer Mark Hunt has, and more concerned with what’s done with them. He asks a bigger question: what standards will Aspen set for development, standards that apply to everyone?

Credit friasaspen.com
Real estate advisor Bill Small, of Zenith Realty Advisors.

The former Mayor believes the current codes and guidelines are not clear enough to maintain a happy medium of development in Aspen, which then makes City Council hash out the details for many projects.  At least one real estate advisor in Aspen says that inconsistency gives developers heartburn as well. Bill Small brokered one of Mark Hunt’s deals, a building on restaurant row. 

Most of the time he’s a real estate consultant, with Zenith Realty Advisors.“Developing in Aspen can be a bit tricky, because of the political environment,” explains Small.

“I think you need to have good planning advising, you have to have good architects, and be willing to negotiate.” 

Small gives the example of City Council, in final negotiations, wanting a development to have different colors, after two or three years of ironing out all other details. 

Two affordable lodges proposed by Mark Hunt will go before city officials again in a matter of weeks. Whether officials decide to allow the exceptions Hunt is asking for, or stick with existing code,  will be indicative of the latest development cycle in Aspen.


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