After years of delay and pleading with Pitkin County and lawsuits from other developers, Sam Brown was finally granted approval by the County to build Centennial; 148 rental units still owned and managed by Brown and 92 ownership units originally sold by Brown and then subsequently by APCHA. In under 6 months, May through October of 1984, Brown was able to build all 92 of the ownership units plus 6 of the rental buildings (approx. 80 units) from scratch.
Brown had a “personal challenge” (his words) to build quality housing at a low cost and he would not be swayed from achieving this as Pitkin County and Aspen made it as difficult as they could. Brown was forced to use his own funds to mitigate the EPA Superfund site he was given to build on. Smuggler neighbors protested the project. The City of Aspen openly encouraged a citizen petition to annex the Centennial build site so that the City Council could vote to terminate the project. When that didn’t transpire, the City tried to charge Brown $775,000 to connect to City water and sewage lines including a fee to upgrade City-owned lines. Brown got that reduced to $550,000, but, according to Brown at the time, no developer had ever been charged more than $100,000. The County placed onerous conditions on the building of the project such as road improvements, retaining walls and other public infrastructure totaling $1.3 million. The County withheld the Certificate of Occupancy until Brown met all demands. Brown struggled to build the project with the funds he obtained from investors as construction costs and interest rates skyrocketed. Facing millions of dollars of debt, Brown asked the County if he could raise rents and sales prices to cover his costs. City and County rejected his request forcing Brown to find some way to build Centennial and still eek out a profit for his investors. Centennial was being built entirely with private funds. There were no financial subsidies from City and County housing funds that bolster most affordable housing projects.
And then Benchmark, the company he hired to do the modular construction, a company known for under-bidding projects, went bankrupt. The next highest bidder was over a million dollars more. By his own admission in an interview with the Aspen Times in 1984, Brown was forced to cut corners to save money
“…now that his original contractor, the Benchmark Corporation, has gone bankrupt, the next-lowest bidder is about $1 million higher. But even cheaper financing won’t completely close the gap, he’s (Brown) quick to admit. He says he is currently meeting with architects to see about cutting corners on the construction and grading, but he isn’t certain what they will be.”
The Aspen Times – 3/29/1984
Having lost his contractor, Brown scrambled to complete the project in a hurry as a “stick-built” structure without a proper plan (the new contractor was brought in a few weeks before breaking ground) and unskilled laborers leading to units without uniform dimensions and walls not being plumb. What resulted were buildings that numerous contractors have commented would last 25 years. We are now in year 30.
Considering all the obstacles placed in Brown’s way, it is amazing that Centennial was built at all. Brown was relentless wishing to see his dream fulfilled. Even after having to divert so much of his capital away from construction, Brown claimed to have realized his vision, “quality housing at a low cost”. A claim he still makes today.
Learn about Sam Brown’s struggle to build Centennial HERE
Learn about the results of the process HERE