517 East Hopkins in mid-May 2023 in downtown Aspen.
Julie Bielenberg/Aspen Times

Developer Mark Hunt, owner of 517 E Hopkins, wanted the Historic Preservation Commission to envision an unusual workplace within the building. Office workers can be hooked up to an IV to feed nutrients into their arms. If a worker needs to de-stress after a Zoom session with a difficult client, they can step into an ice bath or get a deep tissue massage at work.

The amenities will be provided by Remedy Place whose CEO, Dr Jonathan Leary, insists he never uses the phrase “luxury spa” to describe the concept. He calls it a co-working space with wellness services. Leary is an osteopath and has health clubs on Remedy Place in West Hollywood and New York City.

But in a lengthy August memo, Aspen planning director Amy Simon referred to Remedy Place as a luxury spa, not the affordable co-working space Hunt wanted to offer years ago. The website for Remedy Place in New York City details spa services that range in price from $595 to $2,750. He didn’t say if he offered scanners, whiteboards, laser pointers, or WiFi. Leary responded that his concept had evolved beyond a health club when he discovered that Remedy Place members were discussing work and networking when they visited for treatment.

In 2018, Hunt proposed adding affordable shared office space within his building similar to the WeWork pioneered at the time. But when the pandemic made remote work necessary for many offices, WeWork hit hard. This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that WeWork investors were struggling to find a way to avoid WeWork’s bankruptcy.

Leary noted that WeWork may be an outdated concept and that employers are finding that it takes more than free coffee to lure workers back into the office.

The attendees agreed that measures should be taken to improve the construction site. One attendee described the appearance of the building as “so awful” that he felt compelled to close one eye when he walked by. The consensus was that the building should provide a benefit to the Aspen community, whether it be a healthy workplace or something else.

There have been various proposals as to what to do with the building over the years. In 2016, HPC approved a plan to demolish the structure and replace it with a building that can rent retail space in the basement and first floor with affordable housing on the second floor. Then in August 2018, HPC approved a plan to use most of the building to be constructed there for city offices, serving as an annex to the City of Armory offices. Voters rejected this concept in November.

In December of that year, the memo says, Hunt asked HPC to agree to “convert the building’s second floor from all affordable housing units to all duty-free commercial uses, specifically a co-working business.”

HPC approved the concept against employee and APCHA recommendations because the co-working space fulfilled one of the City Council’s goals of providing affordable workspace in the city center. The workspace operator can offer workers packed lunches, a coffee shop, a bar, and health and fitness classes. HPC noted at the time that there was a shortage of affordable office space.

This has since changed with many co-working spaces now available in Aspen. Simon’s note says this proposal points to HanaHaus as a model for co-working space. HanaHaus at the time offered hourly rates starting at $4.

There has been discussion about what would happen if the health services were not sufficient to bring workers into the proposed office space. But HPC members could not agree on whether Leary and Hunt should be allowed to use the vacant workspace for other purposes.

Although the Hopkins Avenue building is not historic, HPC has an oversight because it is located in the historic district of Aspen.

Simon said the discussion will continue at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 13

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