The demise of the Blue Sky Collective has upset many of its fifty members – mostly independent business owners, artists and musicians – who have until November 30 to find new homes and move all of their wares and belongings out of the building at 9635 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood. But the details behind the deal just get cloudier.
Founded by Jen Schafer-Habib, Blue Sky was designed to foster a sense of community among the people who took out space in the 30,000-square-foot complex, and the project won Westword's Best New Store on Colfax Avenue in 2009. Schafer-Habib, who owns a used-book store, says she entered into a verbal agreement with building owner Sai Varanasi in which she agreed to cover the cost of utilities and basic maintenance, and pay whatever rent she and the other members (to whom she subleased space) could afford.
But on November 12, Schafer-Habib was informed that the building had been sold. The next day, she discovered that Century 21 Golden West Realty, the agency representing the new buyer, had changed the building's locks and taped "Notice to Vacate" orders to its ribbon windows. Even more surprising, however, was her discovery that Varanasi hadn't owned the building since July. In fact, shortly after the Blue Sky Collective moved in this past February, Varanasi defaulted on the building's $1.5 million loan, according to Ken Lind, an attorney representing Colorado Community Bank, which foreclosed on the property. Ordinarily, a public trustee alerts tenants when a rental property enters foreclosure, Lind says, but because Varanasi and Schafer-Habib had a verbal agreement rather than a written lease, the trustee had no record of the collective's tenancy. Schafer-Habib, meanwhile, continued sending checks to Varanasi through October. (Varanasi, who has an address in Longmont, couldn't be reached for comment.)
Blue Sky Collective
The new owner has said that Schafer-Habib and the other tenants can stay, as long as they sign individual lease agreements. So far, though, there have been no takers, according to Golden West agent Jessica Noonan.
That's because it has been "hard to cope with the fact that...we were lied to," Schafer-Habib says. The Blue Sky Collective "was a dream for many of us, and now it's over.... To lose that...we're beyond devastated."
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Lots of cheers: Now that attorney Blake Harrison, who is running for the vacant State House District 7 seat, has announced his plans for a ballot initiative that would allow grocery stores to sell full-strength beer and wine, he wants the state's legislative council to review the wording. That process shouldn't be too hard, though, since this proposal is almost exactly the same as a 2008 legislative proposal that never made it out of committee.
Harrison thinks it's important to put the measure on the ballot, since liquor stores and other business interests that oppose the idea have shot it down twice in the legislature. It took fifty years to get beer and liquor sales on Sundays, he points out, "and I don't want to wait."
The Sunday sales finally took off on July 1, 2008. And Harrison knows exactly how long that campaign took, because he got his start in beer politics in 2002, when he was a law student at the University of Denver and tried to get an initiative on the ballot — as a for-credit project — to allow Sunday liquor sales ("Last Call," March 30, 2006). That effort failed, but Harrison has been campaigning against the absurdity of Colorado booze restrictions ever since. The state legislative council will review his latest proposal on December 1; Harrison would like to begin collecting signatures in late January.
If he's successful this round, he hopes that stores like Trader Joe's, which have avoided Colorado, might look at our state again — a move that would surely make Harrison a hero.