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August 15, 2012
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Study: Aspen lodging stakeholders not so keen on economy hotel

ASPEN - Lodge managers and stakeholders within the accommodations sector are "generally unenthusiastic" about the idea of building a moderate-priced hotel in the Aspen area, according to the first phase of a Community Development Department lodging study released Tuesday.Hotel operators were asked to respond to this question: "There has been talk of the city partnering with a developer to build a moderate-economy lodge. Do you think this is viable? Do you think it's a good idea?"Planner Stan Clauson said point blank that the city of Aspen shouldn't get into the lodging business."If the city is going to partner on anything, it should make sure the Lift 1A area truly becomes a portal with great amenities," he is quoted as saying in the city's study. "I'd even suggest that upper Aspen Street is a blighted area worthy of an Urban Redevelopment Authority."Improvements along South Aspen Street and at the base of the Lift 1A area would help to save the smaller lodges in the Shadow Mountain and Main Street neighborhoods, Clauson added.In November, the Aspen City Council gave its blessing to a 22-unit timeshare project, the Lift One Lodge, for South Aspen Street near Lift 1A. The city is in talks with a separate developer for a mixed-use operation - hotel rooms, time-share units and free-market residences - to be in the same neighborhood. Neither project includes economy lodging, however, a category that some council members have expressed an interest in encouraging.Bob Daniel, who represents the Lift One Lodge project, said in the same study that affordable lodges should be built in locations that make sense."Where do you see the affordable lodges now?" he said. "They're in offbeat locations."Daniel said the city shouldn't be a developer but added that it's possible for local government to partner with a company if it provides free or steeply discounted land. "And you couldn't require full mitigation," he said.Developer John Sarpa, of Centurion Partners, said the city would have to bring a lot to the table to accomplish an economy lodge. "Even then, the private and public sectors are very suspicious of each other," he said. "I think the private sector would be worried about how long the whole thing would take. I think meaningful incentives are the best way to go, and let the market take it from there."A statement attributed to Aspen Skiing Co., which operates The Little Nell Hotel & Residences and the Limelight Hotel, said the city can be most helpful by focusing on how to improve occupancy as a whole "and helping existing lodges." The statement was not linked to any particular Skico official.The 2012 Aspen Area Community Plan, a guiding document that the council approved early this year, contains two policies related to lodging: "minimize the further loss of lodging inventory" and "replenish declining lodging base with an emphasis on a balanced inventory and diverse price points." One of the council's top 10 goals is to "examine the desirability and sustainability of preserving existing lodging and producing more lodging in Aspen," says a city of Aspen statement accompanying the study results.Also, a lodging-inventory update conducted by the Mountain Travel Research Program and released in July suggested that Aspen's bed base continues to decline. That update, commissioned by Skico, shows that the overall bed base decreased by 0.5 percent from 2009 to 2012. Also during the three-year period, the Aspen hotel-lodge inventory fell by 0.2 percent, and condo inventory dropped by 4.5 percent. The lion's share of Aspen lodging properties fall into the "luxury" category, according to the first phase of the city's lodging study.Jessica Garrow, city long-term planner, said findings in the study's first phase offer "critical background information" on lodging issues while the second phase will focus on what opportunities exist for the community. Community Development Department staff likely will get started on the second phase in October, she said.As for the economy-lodging question, Garrow said that it remains a discussion point for the future."We'll continue to talk about what role does the city have, if any," she said. "It's really important to know as we move forward that the conversation may result in a decision that the city could have a role, and it should, or the city could have a role, and it shouldn't intervene, or there really is no role for the city. And all three of those things are very valid places to land. The important thing is going through that conversation."Garrow said the city recognizes the importance of the lodging sector and how critical it is to the community."It's just good to be looking at it in a very deliberate way," she said.To access the study, visit www.aspenpitkin.com/Departments/Community-Development/Planning-and-Zoning/Long-Range-Planning.Then, click on the link, "Phase I Lodging Study Final Draft."asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Aug 15, 2012 06:29AM Published Aug 15, 2012 12:07AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.