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Basalt Town Council to decide on Willits tax & expansion, consider Pan & Fork

Jan 11, 2016

An empty storefront on the southern side of Willits Town Center.
Credit Elise Thatcher

  On Tuesday night, Basalt’s Town Council is taking up some weighty issues. First is spending tax dollars to help build out Willits Town Center. The other is whether to ask voters to pay for a new park.

Let’s talk about Willits first. The developer there is asking Basalt to contribute up to $5 million in sales tax dollars to subsidize rent and cover other costs. The idea is that bringing down the cost of rent will attract more tenants, in turn generating more income for Willits Town Center and the Town of Basalt.

The developer, Mariner Real Estate Management, could also require additional sales taxes from new tenants. The two streams of money could add up to $10 million. Mariner says it’s facing an even bigger funding gap, in part because the company can’t get enough tenants.

At the same time, The developer is asking permission to build approximately 90,000 square feet more than what’s already approved. "The square footage that is currently allowed wouldn’t allow us to build out the entire land mass that’s available there,” explains Mariner representative Ryan Anderson. “We’d have to build some smaller one story buildings, or two story buildings, and those are next to impossible to make the numbers work. Because obviously construction costs have gone up a lot in the last couple of years.”

Looking across the Pan and Fork property towards Basalt.
Credit Elise Thatcher

  Anderson and others at Mariner are convinced that adding another level to those buildings will allow retail space on the ground floor, and bring in more revenue. “What we’re trying to do now is take what we’ve been able to build in the core,” said planner David Warner at a December review of the proposal, “and bring it out to the periphery.” Retail spaces facing away from the Whole Foods epicenter have been struggling.

The requests for public funding and bigger buildings have spurred concerns in the community. More than one business owner in Willits Town Center disagrees with subsidizing the development, saying Mariner should find another way to pay for it. As reported by Aspen Public Radio, other mountain communities have contributed tax dollars to specific businesses, usually to revitalize certain areas rather than new developments.

On Tuesday night, Basalt Town Council will also consider whether to ask voters to purchase the Pan and Fork property. A local petition drive is also asking the town to purchase property, but including limits on what can be built nearby.