City officials will be soliciting ideas from the lodging community in the coming weeks as it formulates an incentive program to enhance and expand Aspen’s bed base.
The Aspen City Council’s stated goal is to implement the program by July 1, and exact language for the incentives will begin shaping up on March 3 during a work session.
Long-range planner Jessica Garrow said the city will gather input from a number of lodging operators, including Frias Properties, Aspen Alps Condominiums, The Gant and Aspen Square Condominium Hotel. Information also will be pulled from December’s lodging tour, in which city councilmen and planners compared inventory in Aspen and Snowmass.
One important takeaway from the tour was the success of the condo-hotel model at the Viceroy Snowmass, which had a 95 percent rental rate from its condo owners in December. While Garrow said that model might work in some properties in Aspen, smaller units could not operate as lodges.
“We’re trying to craft language that would apply to both types of condo units,” she said.
Aspen Square Condominium Hotel general manager Warren Klug said his hotel has given input to the city, mainly in support of small-lodge operations and the need for condo upgrades in Aspen.
“We have a lot of older inventory in Aspen, and our goal is to make sure that inventories are updated and that guest expectations are met,” Klug said. “We can’t let the market place pass us by. We have competition.”
He listed Steamboat Springs, Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone as a few of the alternatives for someone sitting in New York or Chicago considering a trip to Aspen. Both Klug and The Gant’s general manager Donnie Lee said it’s too early to offer exact ideas on what can be done, but they’re looking forward to an open dialogue with the city.
“There will be some tough decisions coming up,” said Lee, who is the board chairman for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, a position Klug used to hold. “I think there will be a good conversation.”
Lee said the central struggle in Aspen for moderately priced lodging is the free-market component, which is needed to offset low occupancy levels in the offseason. The question posed to the city, he said, is how does it find a balance between community and developer: What free-market component meets the developer’s financial needs, while keeping in step with the community?
“I think the staff and the city are interested in free-market components that can stay hot,” Lee said. “It’s just about mixing the right components together, so that the community can support it.”
A current example is Hotel Aspen, which proposes to expand its operation from 21,344 square feet to 36,500 square feet, while adding two free-market duplexes. The council was divided when original plans for the expansion were reviewed at a meeting on Jan. 15, when three neighbors spoke out against the project. Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Adam Frisch voiced support, while Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Art Daily said the design does not fit the surrounding Bleeker Street neighborhood. Councilwoman Ann Mullins recused herself.