Stone: Aspen goes big time: Trumped by Trump. Had by Hadid.
January 6, 2016
Hey, it's a brand-new year — let's celebrate with a look back into the past.
To help you focus, I offer this tidbit: Today's history lesson involves everybody's favorite Republican, Donald Trump.
And, no, it is not the story of how the Grand Wizard of the Deal — a man who is now lecturing Hillary Clinton on the morals of her husband, whatshisname — brazenly hauled both his wife, Ivana, and his mistress, Marla Maples, to Aspen for Christmas in 1989. That adventure in Trumpian morality hit its high point when the two women had a spat in Bonnie's restaurant followed by The Donald and The Ivana having a fight outside Bonnie's to the delight of everyone watching from the deck.
What were the gleesome threesome fighting over? I don't know. Maybe bragging rights over who had the biggest blond hairdo.
Anyway, today we're looking at an earlier Trumped-in-Aspen adventure.
So let's step back and get a running start on this excursion into the semi-sordid past. (Anything involving Mr. T is at least semi-sordid.)
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In the mid-1950s, an ambitious young German exchange student by the name of Hans Cantrup arrived in Aspen.
After a stint waiting tables, Cantrup managed to raise a little money and build a small ski lodge — well, a motel. The town was in desperate need of lodging in those days, and Cantrup hit it big.
Over the years, he expanded his holdings, and by 1980, he was the biggest landowner in town, with an empire that included all the property of the Aspen Institute. (The institute, having a hissy fit over development plans, was getting ready to blow this pop stand and move its operations to Crestone. If you don't know how that turned out, drive down to Crestone and take a look at the huge Aspen Institute complex there.)
Cantrup's plan was to build a huge hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain, but as often happens to little guys shooting for the big time, his dreams outran his bankroll, and in 1983 he went bust to the tune of about $40 million.
And that was when Donald J. Trump — the man Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter famously called "a short-fingered vulgarian" — stepped in.
Trump — who insisted to the New York Post that "My fingers are long and beautiful" — undoubtedly imagined his name in big, shiny letters floating across the bottom of the mountain.
But the man who would be king (but will settle for president) managed to mismanage the art of this particular deal.
Just as Donnie was too slow on the slopes to keep up with Ivana, the ex-ski racer who would become his ex-wife, he was too slow to cash out Cantrup.
Instead, a man named Mohamed Hadid jumped in line a New York minute ahead of the New York billionaire, marching up the courthouse steps to hand the county treasurer a check for something on the order of $43 million from his oil-rich Middle East backers.
That was the deal that saved Aspen from becoming a Trump big-money investment and left us instead as a source of Trump bad-marriage embarrassment.
It also was the deal that — after a bitter political battle and a citywide election — led to the construction of the Ritz-Carlton (now the St. Regis) at the base of Aspen Mountain.
And it was the deal that — along with one other little transaction — marked the entry of out-of-town big money into the Aspen development firmament.
That other little transaction was the sale of Aspen Skiing Corp. to 20th Century Fox at just about the time that Cantrup was getting too big not to fail.
Selling Aspen Skiing Corp. to a Hollywood movie studio might have been bad enough, but then Fox was bought by a nice, 6-foot-4, 300-pound Jewish kid from Newark, New Jersey, turned billionaire oil man: Marvin Davis.
It would be easy to get seriously sidetracked talking about Davis, so let's just say that his friends liked him, his enemies hated him, he was known as a philanthropist and he was one of the worst things ever to happen to Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co..
But whatever his voluminous faults (almost as voluminous as his trousers), Davis eventually sold Skico to the Crown family — and while they too are out-of-town big money, they are more on the big-money model of Walter Paepcke. And they have been working hard to repair the damage that Davis did.
Believe it or not, I do have a point here, but before I get to it, let me sew up two loose ends.
Cantrup, dreams of glory shattered, wound up managing a small apartment complex in Glenwood Springs.
Hadid eventually elbowed out of the Ritz deal and is now a real estate developer in Los Angeles. He was featured in a scathing article in The New York Times in December, was listed as one of the "Ten Worst Neighbors in LA" on the real estate blog LA Curbed and is possibly facing criminal charges for building-code violations too blatant to be believed and too numerous to list here.
But, as I said, I have a point, and it is this: It is beginning to feel as if our dedicated but decidedly amateur elected officials are being out-thought, out-maneuvered and overwhelmed — left, in short, like a dead armadillo by the side of a lonesome Texas highway — by the big-time developers who have moved into the valley, kicking down the door left ajar by the likes of Trump and Hadid.
Aspen. Snowmass. Basalt. Don't think "deer in the headlights," because when deer and headlights collide, the headlights suffer at least some damage. Think about a rabbit and a pack of wolves. The only injury to the wolves comes when they fight among themselves for the choice morsels of bunny.
So here we are: deer, bunny rabbits or dead armadillos.
What are we going to do about it?
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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