Blumenthal: Possible Skico hotel a good fit in Base Village | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: Possible Skico hotel a good fit in Base Village

On July 15, a meeting took place between Aspen Skiing Co. representatives, the former Snowmass Village town manager, the former community development director and the town attorney, following which Skico communicated its intention to apply for a minor planned-unit-development amendment concerning Building 5. Originally approved several years ago as a 57-unit, high-end, free-market condo building, Skico would like to purchase and convert the building into a hotel consisting of approximately 105 rentable rooms plus 18 for-sale condominiums.

Although one might question whether this in fact qualifies under the town's land-use code as a minor PUD amendment with an expedited review process and significantly lower cost to Skico than a major amendment, it might in fact be much more beneficial for our town to have another hotel, which is anticipated to be similar to Skico's successful Limelight Hotel in Aspen. With rooms priced on a nightly basis between the high-end, four-star Viceroy and Westin hotels and the lower-priced Wildwood, a Limelight-like operation would add a much-needed midpriced hotel option to our resort's lodging base.

Although I'm not a fan of the piecemeal revision-and-approval process favored by Related and now Skico concerning the completion of the second Viceroy building and Building 5, I'm comforted that both projects likely will add greater vibrancy and economic sustainability in our resort core than those buildings would in the form originally approved.

As a reminder, lots of detailed, professional research and planning went into determining just the right mix of commercial and residential development within the village as a whole, including Base Village, the mall area and Snowmass Center in order to achieve a vibrant and sustainable resort economy. Unfortunately, because of the recession and halted Base Village residential construction, things got out of balance, and we ended up for several years with too much new commercial space and not a sufficient number of new hot beds to adequately support all the new commercial and retail establishments, thus season after season of vacant and ever-changing Base Village storefronts.

The completion of the Viceroy and a new Limelight Hotel should help correct this imbalance. However, it's not prudent to consider further changes to the rest of the previously approved Base Village buildings until Related comes forward with detailed plans for the remainder. The guiding principle underpinning the original review and approval of Base Village by the town staff, Town Council and ultimately the voters was that Base Village, as a significant part of our trinodal resort and community commercial core was not to become as big as it could conceivably be but "just big enough" to achieve economic vibrancy and sustainability well into the future. We need to determine how the completion of the Viceroy and the addition of the Limelight might impact this key underpinning before proceeding with any of the other previously approved Base Village buildings.

In addition, in connection with the recent Viceroy Building 13B approval, Related dodged a very expensive condition when the Town Council agreed to temporarily waive its request for the near-term construction of the Brush Creek Road/Wood Road roundabout and the upper Wood Road improvements that have been languishing in limbo for several years. That waiver might have been justified because of the limited amount of additional traffic generated from the addition of new Viceroy rooms, but clearly that's not the case with the addition of 105 hotel rooms and 18 luxury condos in the potential new Limelight. Thus as part of the Building 5 amendment process, Related and Skico must address a firm timetable and guaranteed financing and security to ensure the roundabout and road improvements will be completed concurrently with completion of the Limelight.

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In the absence of a permanent and experienced community development director, the job of leading us through the complicated review-and-approval process that we're about to undertake concerning the completion of Base Village will fall on the shoulders of our interim town manager, Gary Suiter.

From what I've observed in the weeks since he came aboard, he's gained lots of valuable experience and insight since he last served as our town manager prior to the onset of the original Base Village approval process, and he's well equipped to lead us forward through what likely will be a complex and possibly controversial process. Hopefully he'll consider and the Town Council will agree to convert his interim status to permanent town manager for the long term. I'd hate to begin anew, bringing someone with less familiarity of our village and our major development projects up to speed in the middle of our march toward the completion of Base Village and the ultimate reconstruction of the mall and Snowmass Center.

Your comments are always welcome at secondview@earthlink.net.

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