Delay enters eighth week as developer deals with national credit crisis. The Whole Foods supermarket in Basalt is delayed but not dead, the project developer said this week.

By Scott Condon, 10/24/2008 The Aspen Times, Aspen, CO Colorado,

BASALT — Tim Belinski, vice president of development and local representative of Chicago-based Joseph Freed and Associates (JFA), said the company is still trying to secure financing for the project. “The banking crisis is definitely an issue,” he said.

Belinski insisted that it is a question of when construction will resume on the building, not if it will resume. Whole Foods will have a 44,000-square-foot supermarket on the ground floor. There will be affordable housing on the upper two floors.

JFA has a contract with Whole Foods Market to deliver the shell of the building by June 2009 so that the grocery chain’s own crew can complete the interior. If work resumes soon, that deadline can still be met, Belinski said. However, officials with the development firm and the supermarket are negotiating a possible extension. If that extension is needed, it would be for “months, not years,” Belinski said.

Grocery chain isn’t talking

Whole Foods scaled back an ambitious national expansion plan in August. It eliminated some proposed stores and reduced the size of others but kept plans in Basalt the same. Belinski said Whole Foods officials recently told him they remain committed to the Willits Town Center project.

“They are absolutely bullish about the prospects of opening a store in Basalt,” he said.

Whole Foods Market officials didn’t return repeated telephone calls and e-mail messages from The Aspen Times seeking comment. When interviewed in August, before the national credit crisis intensified and slowed construction at Willits, Whole Foods officials spoke enthusiastically about the Basalt project.

Officials anticipated at that time that the market would open in late 2009 or early 2010. It is unknown how the credit crunch will impact the opening.

Belinski said some Roaring Fork Valley residents have stopped in at his Willits office to inquire about the project after witnessing work come to a standstill. Work stopped at the highly visible supermarket site adjacent to Highway 82 just before Labor Day weekend. The contractor on the job, Clayco, informed subcontractors that work was delayed for an undetermined period. The site was a hive of activity through the summer. Now it is abandoned; a crane with a boom towering into the air is a lonely sentinel at a site strewn with construction materials.

Key piece of Willits plan

Belinski declined comment when asked if the slowdown forced him to pare down his small staff at Willits. Another national developer with a local presence, Related WestPac, announced this week that it was eliminating one-fourth of its positions in Snowmass Village. In addition, construction of future phases of the massive Base Village project are on hold.

Whole Foods is the pivotal piece of JFA’s plan at the Willits Town Center. The development firm bought the project from Michael Lipkin in 2006. All told, Willits Town Center will have 500,000 square feet of commercial and residential space. Well under half has been developed.

Whole Foods is the commercial anchor of the project. Its completion is vital to attracting commercial tenants to the project.

“It will change the feel of the neighborhood for sure and we’re all focused on that happening,” Belinski said.

Even with the tough economic times locally and nationally, Willits Town Center has signed some recent tenants. JFA, which leases space as well as develops it, announced earlier this month that two retail stores committed to space in the Market Street Lofts building, one of two major buildings that have been completed in the town center.

Jayne Gottlieb is opening Studio Moxie, which will host dance classes, workshops and acting classes for adults and kids. Gottlieb will operate a small retail space along with a studio in the 2,972-square-foot location. The store will feature gifts and fashion wear compared of handmade, salvaged and recycled material.

The other new store, Kitchen Collage, will offer a large assortment of gourmet food, quality kitchen and bath appliances and gadgets, as well as entertainment and dining accessories. Kathy Rohlwing and Amy McDonnell will own and operate the 3,654-square-foot store. They also have a store in Edwards.

A “green department store” called Corky Woods opened at the Market Street Lofts building in September. Michelle Pauline Lowe’s 3,300-square-foot store features eco-friendly products from home furnishings to clothing.

That building also has 44 lofts. Nearly all of them have been sold and occupied, according to JFA.