The old Boomerang Lodge property eyed as a residential component of the “Aspen ecosystem” collaboration between developer Mark Hunt and luxury-furnishings titan RH has attracted the city’s attention because of its deteriorating state.
City officials have been actively formalizing a process that could lead to their issuing the Hunt team a “demolition-by-neglect” notification by Tuesday.
The action is being taken, city officials said, because the property’s condition is worsening and little to nothing is being done by the Hunt team to improve the situation.
Located at 500 W. Hopkins Ave., the Boomerang property was acquired by Fourth and Hopkins LLC, an entity controlled by Hunt, for $10 million in 2018. The property has been dormant since then, as it has since most of the Boomerang Lodge, one of Aspen’s original ski hotels, was demolished in 2007. However, the lodge’s original entrance wing and outdoor pool deck were designated as historic in 2006 and remain standing.
Hunt, who controls at least 21 properties according to a city of Aspen count in and around downtown Aspen, announced in 2021 that he was partnering with RH, a California-based brand formerly known as Restoration Hardware, on the creation of an “Aspen ecosystem” with retail, restaurant and gallery space, a luxury boutique hotel and spa, and residential locations. The future Boomerang property development, dubbed the “RH Residences at the Historic Boomerang Lodge,” and a mansion on Red Mountain are the “ecosystem’s” residential components.
Hunt said the plan remains to build residential on the Boomerang property, whether that is through two detached duplexes and one single-family home, or other scenarios, he said.
Hunt said that if the historic portion of the property was converted to a residential building, “it’s possible to have five (residences built) … but we’re not fully vetted on that.”
The property is zoned R-6, which means it allows for medium-density residential development and at least one duplex. Any project involving the property’s historic resource, what is left of the Boomerang Lodge, would be subject to a land use review.
While the Hunt team has been responsive to minor Boomerang fixes in the past, “It has gotten to the point where it is more extensive than a short list, or a punch list,” city planning director Amy Simon said at a June 28 meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission. “We’re concerned.”
The HPC voted 5-0 at the meeting to approve a petition that would allow Aspen Chief Building Official Bonnie Muhigirwa to organize a comprehensive list of property deficiencies that need to be remedied. Muhigirwa has until Tuesday to file the paperwork that would be part of a demolition-by-neglect process set out in the land use code to protect historic properties. Simon brought the petition to the HPC after a city site visit to the Boomerang property in March showed ample building deficiencies.
The petition approved by the HPC said the demolition-by-neglect action being taken was “due to concerns that various forces, including water infiltration, are causing deterioration of the building foundation, board formed concrete walls, and framed elements such as roofs and decks. Exterior finishes are peeling, spalling and otherwise detaching from substrate. Windows are broken and holes are visible at various locations. Based on commentary by a property representative, the site is inadequately secured from trespassers who have entered the building. The chief building official is asked to pursue immediate action to correct this failure to maintain the property.”
The HPC petition triggered another site inspection by city officials in July, the second time this year they examined the property. A building engineer hired by the city participated in the visit and compiled a report, which will be included in the demolition-by-neglect notice if it is filed, city officials said. The report’s findings were not publicly available last week.
Hunt said on Thursday that he has been aware of the city’s concerns but did not realize their magnitude. He contended that property is in better condition than how it has been characterized in city reports.
“We take the building seriously and do not ignore any requests from the city,” said Hunt, who was present at the March site visit. “We worked with them to assess the property and will address their list when we receive it.”
A memo from Simon to the HPC ahead of the June 28 meeting said the city has received complaints about the state of the property.
“Since the lodge use was abandoned, community development has visited the property, with the cooperation of the owners, to ensure that the structure is secured and compliant with the established standards for reasonable care and upkeep of a historic structure,” the memo said. “Formal site visits were conducted by the historic preservation officer and chief building official in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2022 and 2023. In addition, observation from the street has occurred throughout this period. At various times, the chief building official has requested repairs to spalling concrete, loose connections between non-structural elements of the exterior decks, installation of temporary supports at areas of concern, and a dedicated effort to keep the site clear of debris and secured. Regular complaints about the appearance of the property have been made to the city.”
According to Simon, the city has taken demolition-by-neglect action against two historic properties that she knows of in the past.
“This is a fairly standard provision in a historic preservation ordinance,” she said at the June meeting, “where we want to ensure minimum maintenance and care of properties that have been designated historic, because we’re of course hoping to carry them forward into the future, and (because) people have to come before this board and ask for alterations to the building, we cannot allow the process to be circumvented by allowing the resource to deteriorate beyond repair and be lost. So this provision in our code is called ‘demolition by neglect.’”
HPC members agreed with a 5-0 vote.
“You can see it, it’s falling apart,” HPC member Barbara Pitchford said at the meeting. “I ride by it every day. I’m in full support of this.”
If the city puts Hunt on notice about the Boomerang, the matter would advance to a hearing officer if the deficiencies identified aren’t remedied.
“If such a complaint is filed, a hearing will be held before the hearing officer within 45 days,” assistant city attorney Kate Johnson said in an email. “Following the hearing, the hearing officer will make a determination as to whether corrections are required and may order the owner to repair deteriorating elements of the structure within a specified period of time.”
Should the owner, in this case Hunt, not comply, the city would have the authority to pay for the fixes and attach a lien to the Boomerang property, as provided for in the demolition-by-neglect section of the land use code. The city and the property owner could also reach a settlement to provide for the property’s upkeep before the matter reached the hearing officer.
The city has not reached out to Hunt since the July inspection, Hunt and Simon said. Hunt said he would rather work it out over a phone call than go through the city’s formal process.
At the June HPC meeting, member Peter Fornell questioned the city’s approach to enforcement of the demolition-by-neglect code. Fornell asked Simon if this “hardline approach was necessary.”
“I think the concern here is there has been no evidence of any action to care for the building and it has been fairly obvious it is in poor condition, and we have not been approached in any way to proceed with repairs,” Simon responded. “This is serious and we want to formalize the schedule.”
Simon added in an Aug. 10 email that the city is following the process laid out in its municipal code that “requires a site visit (done) and issuance of a written position (due next week).”
The property is a candidate for a demolition-by-neglect citation because of the criteria set by the land use code, said Muhigirwa, the city’s chief building official.
“What the land use code lays out as potentials (for a demolition-by-neglect complaint) are deterioration of exterior walls, sagging, splitting, buckling of any of the exterior features, crumbling and deterioration, ineffective waterproofing, lack of weather protection, so that’s what we’re looking for and we will document it in the report,” she said last week.
Hunt, RH and Aspen
Hunt financed the purchase of the Boomerang property and another Aspen acquisition — two commercial buildings on North Mill Street — in June 2018 with a $25 million loan from Loancore Capital Credit REIT LLC, according to public records.
By that point, Hunt had been active in Aspen’s property market since 2010, amassing a portfolio of about a dozen commercial properties.
Two Hunt-linked commercial redevelopment projects have been completed to date. They are the conversion of the corner lot at Hopkins Avenue and Galena Street into a two-story restaurant and retail building, and the redevelopment of the former gas station at 232 E. Main St. into what is now a Chase Bank.
His plans for the Boomerang property did not become public until a Jan. 5, 2021 announcement from Corte Madera, Calif.-based RH, a publicly traded company formerly known as Restoration Hardware.
The press release, titled “RH becomes a partner of the premier real estate portfolio in Aspen,” announced that RH was investing $105 million into creating an “ecosystem” under the company banner and with Hunt’s M Development.
The partnership includes redevelopments of the Bidwell building on the Cooper Avenue mall and the old Crystal Palace theater building on Hyman Avenue, which between then will bring a boutique hotel, spa, restaurants and retail showrooms to the downtown core. The partnership also includes multiple residential projects.
“The RH Residences at the Historic Boomerang Lodge will include up to five fully furnished four-bedroom custom homes, and The RH Residence on Red Mountain will be a fully furnished six-bedroom home with multiple terraces and an infinity pool with views of downtown, Aspen Mountain and Independence Pass,” the release said. “All of the RH residences will include membership to the RH Bath House & Spa, plus priority reservations at the brand’s restaurants and private dining venues.”
By the time of Hunt’s purchase, the property had been the subject of multiple unrealized redevelopment proposals that initially called for a 45,000-square-foot, 47-room condominium lodge. Other iterations failed to materialize after Charles and Fonda Paterson sold the Boomerang Lodge, which they built and then ran successfully for a half-century, in 2005.
The property was purchased along with a neighboring lot for $13.5 million in 2005 by an entity called Aspen FSP-ABR LLC, which won a contentious approval for the condo-lodge in 2006. Through an agreement between the owners and the city, the building’s historic entry and public areas were preserved to reflect the training that Charles Patterson, who also was an architect, received under Frank Lloyd Wright. The pool area also was also preserved, while the rest of the building’s west side was demolished in the spring of 2007. But before construction of the new lodge could begin, the developer’s financing dried up as the Great Recession hit that December.
The property’s next significant plan, for a 40-unit employee-housing complex that Aspen City Council approved in 2011, was hung up by neighbors’ litigation that was resolved in 2014.
With no traction gained on the housing project or a later proposal to rework the 2006 plan, the lodge approvals expired in March 2018. Aspen FSP-ABR LLC sold the Boomerang property for $10 million to an entity called Hopkins & Fourth LLC and controlled by Hunt in June 2018, according to property records. The neighboring parcel included in the 2005 sale, which has been developed into single-family homes, was not part of the 2018 sale.
“Unfortunately, pursuit of the approved lodge project aligned with a national recession,” said the June memo from Simon to the Historic Preservation Commission. “The project faltered and a series of attempts at amendments, including an affordable housing proposal, failed. By approximately 2018, all development rights that had been granted had expired. The property was purchased by an LLC, which staff understands to be associated with local developer Mark Hunt and the national chain retailer RH (a.k.a. Restoration Hardware).”
Hunt said plans are still in motion for the RH residential development at Boomerang, though there have been no land use or building permit applications filed with the city.
The Pitkin County Assessor’s Office put a $20.5 million actual value on the 27,000-square-foot Boomerang property for the 2023 assessment year, more than double the actual amount of $10.16 million in 2022 and 2021, according to property records.
Meanwhile, the Hunt-RH Aspen ecosystem endeavor hasn’t gone as scripted in the January 2021 announcement, which said that “RH currently plans to open the RH Gallery on Galena and the RH Guesthouse at the Historic Crystal Palace, which will include the Company’s first RH Bath House & Spa, in 2022.”
Last year passed with none of those estimated openings, as the projects stalled because of change orders, billing disagreements with the city and other factors.
Significant steps, however, were made earlier this summer when a building permit was secured for the planned RH Bespoke Gallery, rooftop restaurant and other retail spaces in the former Bidwell building at the corner of Galena Street and Cooper Avenue. The ecosystem’s boutique hotel is planned for the old Crystal Palace Theatre building on the 300 block of East Hyman Avenue. Construction on that project has slowed down due to construction change orders, a change in general contractors, and the Hunt team prioritizing the Bidwell building redevelopment, which also includes the renovation of the Red Onion space and the creation of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass facility and performance venue, all of which are located in the Cooper Avenue mall.
This story was produced in partnership with Aspen Daily News, where Rick Carroll serves as managing editor. The city of Aspen supports Aspen Journalism with a community nonprofit grant.