Whole Foods lite in Basalt?
BASALT, Colorado – Now that a deal for a 44,000-square-foot grocery store has fallen through in Basalt, Whole Foods Market will try to re-negotiate an agreement for a smaller and less expensive space, a top executive said Wednesday.Will Paradise, regional president for the Rocky Mountain Region, said the company still wants to open a store in the valley and he believes Willits Town Center remains a good place. However, Paradise stressed he cannot make any promises.”Things have changed from when we signed that agreement,” Paradise said. “It’s just a question of the right size and the right [financial terms].”Whole Foods, a natural foods chain, inked a deal in May 2007 with Joseph Freed & Associates (JFA) to open at Willits Town Center. Construction started on the space last spring but stalled in September when financing dried up in the recession. The agreement required JFA to deliver the shell of the building by June 1. Whole Foods was going to finish the interior and open the market by late this year or early 2010.Basalt is still listed among the “stores in development” on the Whole Foods’ website, but the agreement is null and void since the developer didn’t meet Monday’s deadline, Paradise said. Officials of the two firms will now need to discuss a new deal. Those talks will occur within “the next few weeks,” he said.The business landscape has changed drastically since the two parties signed the initial deal. JFA’s financing dried up on several projects, but the Chicago-based development firm has jump-started work in some areas. Whole Foods Market’s profits have shrunk, forcing it to slash expenses and curb its aggressive expansion plan. The company has terminated or downsized plans for dozens of new stores in the last year, according to its quarterly reports to investors.Gone are the days when national chains were willing to open stores in the Roaring Fork Valley just to have a presence near Aspen. Paradise said a supermarket in the valley must be profitable and that it cannot be a “drain” on the company. “Smaller would be better at this point and time,” he said. “I’d still like to be there, it’s just got to work.”And what would have worked in the days before the recession won’t work now, with consumers reining in spending. Paradise wouldn’t discuss the size of store he believes would work in the valley because of the pending negotiations. However, he noted that a 25,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market recently opened in Santa Cruz, Calif., and a smaller store opened in Mill Valley, Calif.Ironically, when Willits Town Center was approved earlier this decade, the largest individual space allowed was 27,500 square feet. When JFA signed Whole Foods as a tenant, it sought and received approvals from the town of Basalt to enlarge the site to 44,000 square feet.A spokeswoman for JFA said recently that the developer still views Whole Foods Market as a prime anchor tenant. The company hopes to successfully renegotiate an agreement and resume work on the building, according to spokeswoman Jayne Thompson.Paradise tempered expectations Wednesday.”We’re not saying we’re going in,” Paradise said. “It’s got to work for the both of us.”
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