Banana Republic Seeks To Re-Enter Aspen Retail Scene

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Banana Republic is considering retail space in this three-story residential and commercial building at 420 E. Hyman Ave., which is expected to be completed in April.
Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times

An Aspen building owner on Tuesday received a waiver of a city rule to create second-level spaces for affordable, locally-serving businesses so Banana Republic could become his tenant.

Marc Ezralow, owner of 420 E. Hyman Ave., negotiates with the national retailer to lease just under 4,000 square feet on two levels, but has been barred from doing so due to the city’s land use code in which the basement space is required to be designed separately from street level.

The city’s commercial design standards were the result of changes to the Land Use Code after Aspen City Council in 2016 passed an emergency ordinance freezing all development applications in neighborhoods in the commercial area of the city.



The definition of “second level” commercial space was created during this process and requires projects to be designed much like 420 E. Hyman, according to Jeff Barnhill, a city planner.

At the time, the council feared that businesses serving the needs of the full-time population would be relocated, as restaurants, retail spaces and offices capable of paying high rents resulted in a continued shift towards the exclusivity, he told the citizen. P&Z Commission.



According to Barnhill, the requirement to provide separate net rental spaces in the basement and upper floors, isolated from the main floor space, was created in the hope of providing local utility companies with more affordable rental opportunities.

But Ezralow, who bought the building in 2017 for $ 8.25 million when the requirement did not exist, said his intention was to have a tenant offering multiple price points, not a retailer of luxury at street level and an unnecessary basement that is unattractive and unviable for a business that would likely sit empty.

An architect’s rendering of what the building under construction will look like at Hyman Avenue Mall when completed.

“I would never have bought this building,” he said, if the condition had existed to separate the spaces.

A resident of Pacific Palisades, Calif., Ezralow said he plans to move his family to Aspen this summer and live in the residential part of the third floor of the building.

“We are not (fancy) people… we were offered offers from high end retailers and we wanted to have something where everyone can shop,” he said ahead of the P&Z meeting. Tuesday.

Banana Republic representatives said the company needs a certain area, typically at least 7,000 square feet, to properly store inventory, offer multiple price points, and display its merchandise and brand interactively and effective.

“Banana Republic’s use of only the ground floor or basement of the property would make its investment financially unfeasible,” wrote Ed Kelloff, senior real estate manager at Banana Republic, in a letter to officials at Banana Republic. the city..

He noted in his letter that 420 E. Hyman Ave. is the only building in downtown Aspen that is available and can meet Banana Republic’s minimum space requirements.

“Before Banana Republic abandons its efforts to open a retail store in the city, Banana Republic is submitting this letter of support at the owner’s request for relief from onerous space restrictions applied to the property under the code.” , wrote Kelloff.

Banana Republic was previously in Aspen, renting two stories in the building now occupied by Ralph Lauren on Cooper Avenue. Banana Republic left in 2003 to make way for Ralph Lauren.

Ezralow, represented by land use consultant Sara Adams, requested a waiver of the second level requirement due to a difficulty and asked Banana Republic to be able to combine street level and basement in a single commercial space.

City staff, including Director of Planning Amy Simon, recommended that the application be denied, saying the criteria for receiving a waiver are strict.

A landlord must demonstrate that reasonable use of the property has been denied by the city and can only be achieved through a waiver.

“The current building configuration may not provide enough net rental space for this tenant, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t provide enough space for a tenant and staff see the demand as a specific drawback of the tenant. requester rather than a site-specific difficulty, ”says Barnhill.

He also said the city feared that granting a waiver because an applicant simply does not have enough net rental space to operate would set a bad precedent and serve as a way to bypass the usage code. lands.

“To my knowledge, this is the first second level space reduction that has come to the Planning and Zoning Commission,” he said.

The P&Z committee voted 3-2 in favor of granting the waiver, with the two dissenting members – Spencer McKnight and Teraissa McGovern – saying that looking at the criteria alone there was no difficulty.

“They had ample opportunity before the grandfathered expiration to combine these two units and they would not have been subject to this requirement… they are not influencing me on that,” said McGovern. “I think their mention and use of Banana Republic as a hook for us is trying to play on our emotions, but we’re not the owner, we’re not the people signing this lease. … Negotiations could fail tomorrow and then we did something that could be rented to anyone without local service, not anything.

To address this concern, a voluntary act restriction was added as an amendment to the resolution passed by the Board of Directors stating that the main and ground floor combined business unit should be dedicated to ” general retail trade ”as defined in the land use code rather than“ specialty retail trade ”. »Defined by the city as luxury purchases, generally one-off, such as jewelry, art and fur.

The city’s second tier restriction as it exists at Tuesday’s meeting would be reinstated if the combined space no longer meets the definition of an event.

The majority of committee members said they believe there are difficulties for Ezralow as the basement is not a viable space for a successful business and the city code does not match the intention to have local service businesses.

“It’s difficult for me because I hate to see an empty space in Aspen with the current climate and the mix of retail and the disappointment that people are experiencing,” said Brittanie Rockhill, commissioner. “I don’t like the idea that we object to this happening.

“I see Teraissa’s point and I’m also fighting my own common sense with intention and what Aspen could really use and what Aspen really needs and it makes me want to endorse it.”

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