Basalt hotel sale a sign of things to come? | AspenTimes.com

Basalt hotel sale a sign of things to come?

Aspen, CO ColoradoBASALT Aspen-like prices in the Basalt real estate market could bring more Aspen-like problems after the sale this month of a small, affordable hotel popular with anglers and travelers on a budget.The Green Drake Inn in downtown Basalt sold for $4.4 million to an investment group headed by Aspen architect Charles Cunniffe, according to a deed filed with the Eagle County clerk’s office.The small hotel along Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main street, soared in value by about 190 percent since the last time it sold 3 1/2 years ago. Tiffany Gildred Ernemann, a former member of Basalt’s town council, purchased the 25-room hotel from Sagewood-Thomas Group LLC for $1,525,000 in June 2003, according to Eagle County records. Ernemann sold for $4.4 million or $2,875,000 more than she paid, the records show. The deed for the sale was recorded Jan. 8.Ernemann and Cunniffe didn’t return telephone calls seeking comment on the transactions. Jody Edwards, an attorney representing the buyers in this latest transaction, said the investment group will evaluate its options and eventually submit a design to the Basalt town government. He declined to disclose who is in the investment group with Cunniffe.Cunniffe, a well-known Aspen architect, has become active in the midvalley real estate market in recent years. He is part of an investment group that purchased a vacant lot and a building in separate transactions in Carbondale. Both properties are on the town’s main street and regarded as prime development opportunities.The property sale in Basalt raises the prospect that one of only two hotels in the town will be converted to a different use. Most rooms at the Green Drake run between $90 and $150 per night; it would difficult for Cunniffe’s group to recoup its investment at those rates.For now, the Green Drake Inn is continuing to operate as it did under Ernemann. There are no plans for immediate changes, Edwards said. Basalt is also home of the Best Western Aspenalt Lodge.The Green Drake’s site is zoned for commercial uses. A variety of different types of businesses could operate there, although the town government would review any change, according to town planner Susan Philp. Residential uses could be allowed under special review, she said.If the hotel is converted, it would follow a pattern that’s become prevalent in Aspen. Scores of small lodge and hotel rooms in Aspen have been converted to fractional ownership luxury units over the last five years. That’s an issue that Basalt officials didn’t anticipate facing.The town government has attempted through its master plan and land-use regulations to encourage the addition of hotel units. Such a move is seen as an important step in developing an economy that is less dependent on Aspen.The loss of the hotel could be a blow to the town’s economy, however. A 2002 study by the Roaring Fork Conservancy showed that tourists who stayed overnight for fishing and other activities on the lower Fryingpan River generated $2.13 million in direct spending in the valley each year. About $1 million of that was spent in Basalt in hotels, fly shops and restaurants, the study said.Ernemann wasted little time reinvesting her proceeds from the sale of the Green Drake Inn. Ernemann’s Green Drake Inn LLC purchased property in Aspen’s Ridge of Red Mountain neighborhood for $4.39 million on Jan. 3, according to a deed filed with the Pitkin County clerk’s office.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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