The Sopris Sun

Pitfalls, priorities and patience for a new City Market

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The troubled Carbondale Marketplace development proposal, on a parcel of land adjacent to the intersection of Highway 133 and Main Street, has been granted its sixth extension in a year and a half for the submission of critical documents that must be filed before any development can proceed on the property.

The approval of the 90-day extension for filing a final plat for the project, however, came only after the Board of Trustees (BOT) listened to a litany of problems outlined by spokesmen for the project’s development partnership and the City Market grocery store that is to be the anchor tenant in the project.

“We have gotten a little grayer since we started,” noted Joel Starbuck, director of real estate development for City Market and its corporate parent, Kroger, referring to himself and Carbondale-based developer Briston Peterson.

Peterson had pointed out only moments earlier that he had been involved in different development plans for this same parcel for more than a dozen years.

Starbuck, relating his efforts to build a shopping center into which the existing City Market is planning to relocate from its present site less than a mile away, said this project has had “more pitfalls than any other project that I’ve been associated with.”

He was referring to fiscal restructuring and an apparent lack of funds on the part of Kroger, which has been the subject of numerous bad-news financial reports over the past couple of years.

According to a June 19 story in the Denver Post, Kroger lost more than $7 billion in market value over two days earlier this month, starting with a bad earnings report on June 15 that caused its stock to lose 19 percent of its value.

The next day, June 16, the online retail giant Amazon announced it would be buying the Whole Foods natural-foods grocery chain, which sent another shock through Wall Street and caused Kroger’s shares  to lose another 9 percent in value.

“And Kroger has been struggling (even before these developments),” the story continued, “battered by a bout of food deflation” that largely came from Kroger’s efforts to “thwart” the growth of food sales in the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

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Starbuck said his bosses at Kroger have been telling him he does not have access to developmental funds that he once thought were secure, and declared, “Right now, I’m trying to keep the relocation of the Carbondale store at the top of the list” of projects demanding attention and financing from the parent corporation.

“It’s fluid, because things change,” Starbuck told the trustees, in a seeming reference to the Amazon bid for Wal-Mart, and he later said that part of the problem has been that bids from contractors have come in “really way over … very much over the top,” meaning much more expensive than the company’s engineers had estimated.

“It was really across the board, from bricks to mortar to sand to tile,” he said of the bids regarding materials, which he blamed partly on the fact that the entire state of Colorado is going through a construction boom that is driving costs up.

He said he and his team are now looking through those bids to see if changes can be made to lower those costs, and that new bids may be sought during the extension period.

But he still must wait on Kroger to get its financial house in order and provide him with a budget for the Carbondale project, he said.

Peterson, for his part, noted that “this has been a long road for our partnership,” which he said is “losing dollars with this transaction.”

But, he told the trustees, he and his partners have been “very, very patient” and “would like to see a successful outcome here.”

He said that his partners and he plan on submitting an application to develop the parcel next to the proposed site for a new City Market “with or without Joel’s presence.”

The existing City Market store, in the Crystal Village Shopping Center, has another four years on its lease, and is not in jeopardy of closing as a consequence of delays in building a new store.

The trustees concluded that, since most town residents support the project, it would be acceptable to make the extension for 90 days rather than the 60-day period proposed by town staff.

“I just want to make sure there’s enough time,” said Trustee Heather Henry.

The extension was approved unanimously.