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Skico, Aspen hospital issue vaccination mandates

People wait outside of Paradise Bakery on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in downtown Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Aspen Valley Hospital and Aspen Skiing Co. are enacting policies that will require their employees to get fully vaccinated ahead of the winter season.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan announced the new policy Tuesday and David Ressler, CEO of AVH, discussed the mandate at Monday’s board of directors meeting. Both organizations’ top executives said vaccinations will be a condition of the workers’ employment unless they cite religious or medical reasons to opt out. Skico’s deadline for employees to get fully vaccinated is Nov. 15; AVH has an Oct. 31 deadline.

“While 90% of us have been vaccinated, we remain exposed in certain departments and as a community given how easily the Delta variant spreads,” Kaplan said in an email sent to employees. “We all value autonomy and freedom of choice in this country. However, when our individual choices affect the wellbeing of our fellow employees and community members, as an organization we must look through a broader lens that prioritizes our collective safety and wellbeing.”

That 90% figure pertains to active Skico employees, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications. Employment numbers fluctuate with the seasons, Hanle said, also noting Skico has a staff of approximately 1,500 part- and full-time employees during the summer season and 4,000 during the winter.

The polices were declared in response to the delta variant’s persistence as the colder months draw nearer, and also came after President Biden’s announcement Thursday that companies with at least 100 employees must require them to get vaccinated. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, under the Department of Labor, will draft the policy estimated to affect 80 million workers.

Pitkin County is expected Wednesday to announce a new indoor-mask mandate that takes effect Thursday. Earlier in the day, a meeting between Pitkin County and hospital officials will take place to discuss the status of the AVH’s operations. The county and AVH have been meeting on Wednesdays to get the hospital’s most updated information in the three metrics that measure its operational efficiency — the number of essential health-care workers out with COVID-19 or its symptoms, the average daily visits, and impatient hospitalization and transfer capacity. Those three categories have been under the cautious level since last week, Ressler said.

At Monday’s board meeting, Ressler noted the county’s incidence rate “continues to hover” around 200 per 100,000 residents, while the positivity rate has been consistently 5% or higher, which he said is a cause for concern.

“We just know there’s a lot of virus in the community,” he said, adding the 25-bedroom hospital has “transfer challenges” when other hospitals in the area start filling up.

“So when that happens for us, we may eventually get the patent transferred … but we have to maintain the patient here while we’re trying to find a bed,” he said.

Recently the hospital had to transfer a 1-year-old patient with COVID-19 to another facility with a “higher level of care,” said Ressler, stressing the vulnerability of the younger population to the delta strain.

The hospital also has seen break-through cases — people afflicted with COVID-19 even though they are fully vaccinated — yet Ressler cited a vaccination study’s findings that 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States are patients who have not been vaccinated. On Tuesday, Pitkin County officials said a fully vaccinated resident died over the weekend due to the virus; it is the fifth death in the county since the pandemic started in March 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study examined 600,000 cases from April through July, concluding unvaccinated people are four-and-one-half times more likely than vaccinated people to get the coronavirus, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die from the disease.

The Aspen hospital has had its vaccination policy in the works; at its Aug. 9 monthly board meeting, the medical executive committee, through chief of staff Dr. Catherine Bernard, recommended that the hospital require all of its health-care workers, physicians and staff to become fully vaccinated. And on Aug. 30, the state Board of Health passed an emergency mandate requiring all hospital and health care facility workers to have their first vaccination dose by Sept. 30 and their second by Oct. 31. AVH will follow that timeline also.

The hospital’s staff was informed last week of the mandate. Currently, 89% already are fully vaccinated and 90% are either partially vaccinated or are in the process of getting a vaccination, according to hospital officials.

“We’re having broad discussions with our staff, answering questions,” said Ressler.

Hospital officials do not anticipate much resistance to the requirement, but there will be some, they acknowledged.

“AVH anticipates that there will be some employees who will choose to not become vaccinated and either request a medical or religious exception, or ultimately leave employment,” said Jennifer Slaughter, the hospital’s director of community relations, in an email. “However, AVH Employee Health practitioners are working hard to provide every employee with information, answer questions, and assure properly informed decisions.”

Likewise, Hanle said some resistance is to be expected from Skico employees.

Kaplan’s letter to employees said: “I can assure you this decision is not being taken lightly and that it has included plenty of lively debate and diverse opinions. However, the fact that we have safe FDA-approved vaccines that greatly reduce spread, the severity of illness and the risk of hospitalization or death means we can beat this pandemic if we all do our part.

“I truly hope you will all stay with us and get your shots if you haven’t already since we face a critical point in the fight against Covid and it’s no secret that every employee is more valuable than ever given our shortage of staff. So, we are here and prepared to discuss any concerns on an individual basis and to support any of you who may choose to transition out of ASC.”

According to AVH’s forms for workers seeking exempt status because of religious or medical reasons, they will be required to “complete regular COVID-19 surveillance testing at intervals determined by Employee Health. I may also be required to submit to other mitigation measures such as additional PPE usage, social distancing, modified schedules, modified work location, reassignment, a temporary leave of absence, or any other reasonable accommodation, which Aspen Valley Hospital determines, would reduce the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus to me, our patients, our workforce and our community. My failure to comply with mitigation measures may be the basis for disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment/assignment.”

One of the larger unanswered questions is when booster shots will be available, Ressler said.

“That’s the No. 1 question we get from our staff when we’re talking about vaccines, not about the mandate, but when can I get my booster,” he said. “Everyone’s concerned that their defense is waning, but that’s not based on the data, starting to emerge … there’s still a high level of protection, even six months out.”

IRS puts $1.4 billion liens on Brockman’s Aspen properties

Three Aspen properties purportedly owned by Robert Brockman were hit with tax liens totaling more than $1.4 billion last week as part of the federal government’s tax fraud and evasion case against the Houston billionaire.

Liens of the identical amounts also were filed against Brockman individually in both Pitkin and Eagle counties Friday, according to public documents.

The six liens are all for personal income taxes the IRS contends Brockman owes for the periods ending 2004 through 2007, 2010, and 2012 through 2018. Brockman’s unpaid balances to the IRS range from $7.487 million in 2007 to $302.227 million in 2004, according to the liens.

“We have made a demand of payment for liability, but it remains unpaid,” said the liens. “Therefore, there is a lien in favor of the United States on all property and rights to property belonging to this taxpayer for the amount of $1,418,272,371.71 these taxes and additional penalties, interest, and costs that may accrue.”

Robert and Dorothy Brockman. Federal prosecutors have charged Robert Brockman, who owns property in Aspen and Pitkin County, in a $2 billion tax fraud.
AP File Photo

Brockman, 80, has pleaded not guilty to 39 federal charges that include wire fraud and money laundering as part of an alleged $2 billion tax scheme, the largest amount ever for a U.S. tax case, the government has said.

Brockman is the founder and former CEO of Dayton, Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds Co., which sells business software to auto dealerships. He is accused of hiding income he made on his investments in private equity funds from the IRS.

Defense attorneys contend Brockman is incompetent to stand trial because he strains to understand and retain information, possibly a symptom of Parkinson’s or a sort of dementia. That matter is pending before a federal court judge in Houston.

Brockman’s indictment, issued in October, referred to two of his local real estate acquisitions and said he was a resident of both Houston and Pitkin County.

More ripples were felt locally when the feds in March expanded their probe into Brockman with a U.S. Attorney’s Office’s civil forfeiture complaint, which was filed in an attempt to seize a 100-acre property in the upper Fryingpan River Valley. Even though the ranch is not owned directly under the name of Brockman, he is still the one who owns it, the complaint said.

“The property is titled in the name of Henke Property, LLC,” said the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in Denver. “Henke Property, LLC, on paper, is 100% owned by Henke Holdings, LLC. Both entities were formed in Colorado on September 7, 2005, at the direction of Brockman.”

That case is pending, and Brockman’s attorneys argued in a July pleading that Brockman has only leased the Fryingpan property — which is located at 121 Ash Road — but has no ownership in it.

The tax liens filed last week said Henke Holdings is an “alter ego” of Brockman’s. Likewise, they said other limited liability companies — which are the owners in title of the properties in question — are Brockman’s alter egos.

Meanwhile, last week’s liens were filed on the following Aspen properties, details of which are based on information from the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office and the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office. All three properties are located on roads off Highway 82 leaving Aspen.

• The property at 10 Popcorn Lane is titled under Difficult LLC, based in Houston. The five-bedroom, four-bathroom home was built in the mid-2000s and remodeled in 2013. The Pitkin County Assessor’s Office gives the 4,271-square-foot property, which sits on 1.6 acres, an actual value of $9.117 million and an assessed value (the amount used to calculate property tax payments) of $651,870. Difficult LLC acquired the property for $5.26 million in March 2011, prior to the remodel.

• Under the ownership of Mountain Queen LLC in Aspen, 230 McFarlane Road also is located off Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. The 1987-built home has 5,811 square feet of habitable space. The assessor’s office gives it an actual value of $15.933 million and taxable value of $1.139 million.

• Down the road is 300 McFarlane Gulch Road, which is under the ownership of Henke Property of Aspen, which paid $4.6 million for the 12-acre property in September 2005. The land includes two cabins — a 2,977-square-foot residence with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a 1,391-square-foot home, also with two bedrooms and two baths. Both wood-frames were built in 1975 and have a combined actual value of $4.096 million and an assessed value of $292,930.


Basalt’s economy already way ahead of 2020’s record pace

Basalt is experiencing the kind of economic boom this summer that has spurred some people to ask if there is too much vitality.

Sales in July were up 24% compared with what was a very strong July 2020. The town government collected $888,767 in sales tax revenue for the month. That was a record for July and dwarfed pre-COVID numbers.

“Lodging is posting a 25% increase between years due to their recovery and growth above pre-COVID sales,” said a memo to the Basalt Town Council from town finance director Christine Chicoine. “Restaurants with bars are posting a gain of 38.4% between years, due to growth above pre-COVID sales.”

General retail sales are up nearly 47% from last year. The building sector also is up 47%.

On the surface, the only surprise from the August sales report — which reflects actual sales in July — was retail food dropping 4%. However, many people were eating more meals at home and going out less often last summer during the height of the pandemic. Chicoine noted in her report that grocery sales are still above pre-COVID levels even if they aren’t matching 2020.

Up for review

The Basalt Town Council will review two major projects at its meeting Tuesday.

The council will resume first-round review of the Basalt Center Circle proposal for 70 apartments and a European-style market by developers Tim Belinski and Andrew Light.

The council also will start review of developer Michael Lipkin’s plan to finish the Willits residential neighborhood with 155 residences, including 44 deed-restricted housing units.

The Basalt Center Circle project will be reviewed at about 6:35 p.m. and the Willits project is on the agenda for 8:10 p.m.

Basalt’s economy has been on a roll since recovering from the initial shock of the pandemic lockdown last spring. For the year-to-date through July, sales are up 18.7% in 2021 compared with last year’s previous record. The town has raked in $5.69 million in sales tax revenue so far this year compared with $4.8 million at the same point last year. Sales tax collections were at $4.19 million at the same point in 2019.

The state of the economy became the focus of a brief discussion at the Aug. 24 Basalt Town Council meeting while the board reviewed a proposed development at the old Clark’s Market site downtown.

Co-developer Tim Belinski said the proposed project — 70 apartments and a European-style market — would provide a spark to downtown’s economy.

Councilman Ryan Slack noted, “A lot of people are feeling we have all the vitality we need.”

Belinski replied, “That’s 100 days. What changes is downtown (currently) goes to sleep sometime around October 1.”

He suggested the project he is promoting with partner Andrew Light could bring year-round vitality by adding to the critical mass of people living downtown.


Business Monday: Free from health orders, Aspen businesses make up ground in July

Aspen’s retail economy continued to show it is on the mend, according to the city’s lastest consumption tax report. The above chart shows year-to date sales through July compared to 2020. (Graphic courtesy of city of Aspen)

Whether compared with the same month in 2019 or in 2020, July retail sales in Aspen showed a significant surge, according to the city’s consumption tax report released Friday.

Overall taxable sales of $125 million in July were up 38% over the same month in 2019 and 50.2% over the pandemic-riddled July 2020.

“We continue to see a resurgence in economic activity through the summer season,” noted city senior tax auditor Anthony Lewin in an introductory memo to last week’s report crunching July sales figures. “Most industries continue to meet or exceed ‘normal’ levels, when compared to pre-pandemic 2019 figures, coinciding with robust tourism returning to the valley during the summer months.”

The majority of the 14 taxable retail industries the city tracks posted gains in July over July 2020. The most notable improvements came the from accommodations sector, which bounced back with a 75.6% improvement over July 2020, and fashion clothing, which more than doubled last year’s showing with a 119.7% gain, according to the report.

Here’s how Aspen’s retail sectors fared in July:

— Accommodations, $34.9 million, up 75.6% over July 2020

— Restaurants/bars, $23.3 million, up 42.6%

— Sports equipment/clothing, $5 million, down 4.4%

— Fashion clothing, $18.2 million, up 119.7%

— Construction, $7.9 million, up 30%

— Food/drug, $10.9 million, up 55.2%

— Liquor, $1.7 million, up 4.4%

— Misc., $7.6 million, up 5.8%

— Jewelry/gallery, $6.6 million, up 25.7%

— Utilities, $3.3 million, up 21.5%

— Automobile, $3.3 million, up 40%

— Marijuana, $1.4 million, up 4.2%

— Bank/finance, $267,284, n/a

— Health/beauty, $764,107, n/a

The strong July helped fuel the continued recovery of Aspen’s retail economy from last year, yet Lewin noted “there are still a couple of industries that have been slower to recover — accommodations and restaurants/bars remain behind 2019 sales.”

Through this year’s first seven months, the accommodations sector is down 16% and restaurants are off 1% from the same period in 2019, “but these sectors have made up significant ground following the weak peak months of the 2020-21 ski season, when sales fell dramatically,” Lewin noted.

The legal marijuana trade, with a 7% slide, is the other sector down from 2019 year to date through July, Lewin reported.

Through July, Aspen retailers this year accounted for $548 million in taxable sales, the report said.

What’s the Big Deal: Mountainside home in Aspen scores $15.3 million

603 S. Garmisch St., Aspen (Pitkin County Assessor’s Office)

What’s the Big Deal runs Mondays and is based on the prior week’s most expensive property transaction recorded in the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office.

Price: $15.3 million

Date recorded: Sept. 9

Buyer: 603 South Garmisch LLC

Seller: C2017 Acquisition LLC

Address: 603 S. Garmisch St., Aspen

Neighborhood: Base of Aspen Mountain; Barbee Family PUD

Property type: Single-family residential

Year built: 2003-04

Total heated area: 5,755 square feet

Lot size: Quarter acre

Assessor’s office actual value: $14,750,700

Assessor’s office assessed value: $1,054,680

Property tax bill: $28,227.04

Source: Assessor’s Office and Clerk & Recorder’s Office, Pitkin County

Business-interruption suit involving Aspen restaurant awaits answer from state’s high court

L'Hostaria, an Italian restaurant, is at 620 E Hyman Ave. in Aspen.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

An Aspen restaurant’s federal lawsuit against its insurance carrier over financial losses brought on by the pandemic faces a pause as parties on both sides await the state supreme court’s opinion in another case with similar allegations.

L’Hostaria Ristorante, under its corporate name Sagome Inc., sued Cincinnati Insurance Co. in December for coverage related to business interruptions that took place from March 16, 2020, through April 26, 2020, due to public health orders that shut down the downtown Aspen restaurant, as well as subsequent orders that limited its food service to curbside pickup.

Cincinnati Insurance denied the restaurant’s claims because its policy covered direct physical damage to its property, but not financial losses triggered by health orders, according to court filings. The insurance carrier has a motion to dismiss the case on those grounds, as well. But before the court decides on that motion, there’s one question that needs answering, argued attorneys from the Denver firm Levin Sitcoff PC in a written pleading to the court Sept. 3 seeking a stay in the proceedings. Levin Sitcoff represents L’Hostaria in its litigation.

The question — “Does the presence of COVID-19 at an insured location constitute physical loss or damage for purposes of a property insurance policy?” — is pending before the U.S. District Court in Colorado in another suit from Levin Sitcoff. That suit also challenges an insurance carrier’s coverage when it comes to pandemic-triggered business-interruption losses, and the question being posed by Levin Sitcoff is central to the firm’s motion to have the question certified as a matter of state law. That would require the Colorado Supreme Court to issue an answer simply to that question — not make any rulings on the lawsuit itself.

“Whether the presence of COVID-19 constitutes physical loss or damage for purposes of Colorado insurance policies is a vitally important question of state law. The Colorado Supreme Court deserves the opportunity to answer it,” said Levin Sitcoff’s motion on behalf of Monarch Casino & Resort Inc., a Nevada company that owns and runs casinos in Reno and Black Hawk, Colorado. That suit also claims wrongful denial of business-interruption claims.

The motion noted most “property insurance policies contain a threshold requirement that the insured sustain ‘physical loss or damage’ before coverage is triggered. And with near uniformity, insurers in Colorado and elsewhere have denied claims for COVID-related losses on the ground that the presence of the virus doesn’t cause physical loss or damage to insured property. The result is a flood of litigation rising in federal and state courts, sometimes with inconsistent outcomes.”

Until that answer is provided, Levin Sitcoff argued that the L’Hostaria case should be paused. Cincinnati Insurance Co. also agreed to the stay. The motion is pending.

In other business interruption cases, insurance companies have successfully argued physical damage to the restaurants — caused by natural disasters, for instance — did not occur with COVID-19, and that’s why their claims were denied. The majority of cases like L’Hostaria’s have been thrown out by the courts.

“When the COVID-19 virus and attendant restrictions burst on the scene during Spring 2020, contested coverage claims were expected,” wrote attorneys Erik Knutsen and Jeff Stempel on Penn Law’s Covid Coverage Litigation Tracker website. “What has surprised most everyone, however, is the amazing insurer success to date in defeating those claims via motion. Insurers have prevailed more than 90 percent of the time in federal court.”

The authors noted that insurers have successfully had suits dismissed two-thirds of the time in state court.


What’s the Big Deal: Aspen home sells for $13.6 million

55 Winter Way (Pitkin County Assessor’s Office)

What’s the Big Deal runs Mondays and is based on the prior week’s most expensive property transaction recorded in the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office.

Price: $13.6 million

Date recorded: Sept. 3

Buyer: Jesa LLC

Seller: 55 Winter Way LLC

Address: 55 Winter Way, Aspen

Neighborhood: Knollwood

Property type: Single-family residential

Year built: 2017

Total heated area: 4,338 square feet

Lot size: 16,780 square feet

Assessor’s office actual value: $11,118,300

Assessor’s office assessed value: $794,960

Property tax bill: $20,213

Source: Assessor’s Office and Clerk & Recorder’s Office, Pitkin County

Trouble brewing for Colorado’s once-promising hops industry, which now faces uncertain future

Kevin Andrews seperates vines of hops to be put through a harvesting machine at the Billy Goat Hop Farm south of Montrose on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.
William Woody, Special to The Denver Post

Driving down U.S. 550 between Montrose and Ridgway in southwest Colorado, the hop bines are visible from the road. This time of year, during harvest season, they stretch 18 feet tall, climbing the trellises that farmers Chris DellaBianca and Audrey Gehlhausen hang by hand each spring.

One stormy day in July, we walk through rows upon rows of lush bines, hanging heavy with Cascade, Columbus and Chrystal hop cones. They blow gracefully in the wind like lanky green dancers doing pirouettes. It’s a romantic scene, DellaBianca admits, a twinge of disillusionment in voice.

Nine varieties of hops grow on the couple’s Billy Goat Hop Farm, which at 32 acres is among the largest hop-erations in the state. The irony? Drinkers will rarely find their crop in local beers.

When farmers began sowing the seeds of Colorado’s hop industry more than a decade ago, it was to meet the demands of a “drink local” culture, perpetuated in no small part by MillerCoors, which in 2010 released a beer made exclusively with ingredients from the Centennial State. But the once-promising industry is now in dire straits as small growers try to manage competition from large agriculture, shifting consumer tastes, increasingly unpredictable weather and changes in the way hops are bought and sold. That’s before factoring in a global pandemic.

“We have some orders for the 2021 crop, yes, but not a ton. It’s a small percentage of what our total yield will be,” Gehlhausen said. “There’s so many breweries, especially after the pandemic, that are saying support your local businesses and support your local breweries. And how many of those breweries are doing the same as far as where they’re getting their stuff from?”

Colorado is not a big player when it comes to producing hops, the ingredient used to add bitterness and aroma to beer. More than 95% of those grown in the United States come from Washington, Idaho and Oregon, according to the Hops Growers of America. In 2020, Coloradans harvested 147 acres of hops compared with more than 58,600 acres in the Pacific Northwest, the trade group reported.

Still, hops thrive here, especially in the high desert on the Western Slope. That’s thanks to the number of sunny days each year and the elevation, which intensifies the light the plants receive, DellaBianca said. The arid climate also helps prevent mildew from growing.

Hops are a resilient crop compared to most, able to withstand a hard freeze and grow stronger because of it, said David Warren, co-founder of High Wire Hops in Paonia. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to the effects of climate change.

Drought conditions can be detrimental if farms don’t have enough water for the plants, though most use drip irrigation to regulate water use. Hail or excessive wind can damage the burrs, which blossom into hop cones, affecting overall yield. Last year, High Wire produced 30% fewer hops due to heat and wind that dehydrated and stressed the plants, Warren said.

While weather is a concern, growers and sellers said it’s hardly as pressing as trying to get supply and demand in equilibrium.

The MillerCoors boom

In 2007, Randy Flores was living on a 300-acre farm in Montrose when he caught wind of a worldwide hops shortage.

“That’s what caused myself and all these other hobby hop farmers to start growing hops,” he said.

Soon thereafter, MillerCoors came knocking with the idea for a beer made entirely with local ingredients. The company was willing to pay a premium, too — about $13 per pound, Flores said — to help farmers offset the steep upstart costs. In addition to infrastructure like trellises and deadmen, hop farming requires special equipment, such as a picking machine, for harvesting and processing at the end of the season.

In 2010, MillerCoors subsidiary AC Golden Brewing debuted Colorado Native amber lager, brewed with 99% local ingredients. The brewery didn’t have enough local hops at the time to tout it as all-Colorado homegrown and even doled out free rhizomes to interested residents to up its stash.

Today, the Colorado Native line boasts seven year-round recipes and four seasonal releases. All of them are made with 100% Colorado-grown ingredients, including hops, said Anna Tomczak, supply manager at Molson Coors.

“We definitely helped jumpstart that growth in the region,” Tomczak said. “There are a lot of craft brewers in the area, so I think year-over-year demand for locally grown hops has definitely increased, and we’ve helped with that.”

The boom, however, was short-lived, growers said. According to Warren, who maintains a contract with AC Golden, the brewery amassed a backlog of hops and eventually stopped paying higher than market cost for them. Molson Coors spokesperson Marty Maloney said the company cut back on hop contracts a few years ago to “right-size inventory.”

“Some farmers were 100% with Coors. Four or five folded right there,” Warren said. “I knew to go along with Coors entirely was not a good idea, so we had a third of our crop that we were marketing on our own.”

Challenges brewing

The influx of new hop growers also yielded some unintended consequences. When farmers couldn’t sell to AC Golden, they looked for other breweries who might want their product, Flores said, who left the growing industry in 2010 and started a distribution business, US Hop Source.

“The biggest problem was they did not have a track record,” he said. “They didn’t have history like big dealers and brokers, and couldn’t provide the quantity.”

Volume is still a hindrance to leveraging local hops, said Scott Dorsch, brewer and agronomist at Odell Brewing Co. An India pale ale uses 2 to 3 pounds of hops per barrel, depending on the specific recipe. Odell brews 140 barrels at a time, meaning brewers would need 280 to 420 pounds of hops per brew, Dorsch said.

An acre of fully mature hops can yield as much as 2,000 pounds, so Colorado producers wouldn’t be able to sustain the brewery year-round, Dorsch said. Odell would still need to supplement with hops from the Pacific Northwest.

The Fort Collins-based brewery considered using local hops back when farmers were looking for buyers besides AC Golden, Dorsch said; however, the crops were twice the price before being pelletized and made shelf stable. Moreover, Odell’s customers were not demanding locally sourced ingredients in their beer.

“The small-scale growers that are currently in Colorado, we do not see volume, quality, consistency and price point,” Dorsch said. “That sounds harsh, but from a business standpoint it did not pencil out.”

Questions of quality are largely due to a PR problem, said Scott Ziebell, owner of Colorado Hop Co., which grows hops and helps small farmers process theirs. During the Coors boom, some growers did not properly harvest or store their crop, and that left a bad taste in brewers’ mouths, he said. Today, though, Ziebell maintains the quality is on par with those grown in the Pacific Northwest.

Limitations on which hop varieties Coloradans can grow further complicate the equation. Cascade, Chinook and Nugget are examples of public hops that can be grown by any farmer. But others, such as Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe, are what’s known as proprietary varieties, meaning the companies that developed them have exclusivity to grow them. The latter are in high demand due to evolving consumer tastes. Citra, for example, is commonly used in the ever-popular hazy IPA and coveted for its lime, grapefruit and other tropical fruit aromas.

But even if Coloradans could plant whatever varieties they wanted, they’re now battling a surplus of supply, according to Flores. Years ago when hops were hard to come by, breweries contracted with specific farms to buy the following year’s crop. They were often locked in multiyear contracts for what are now considered less appealing hops, leading them to have extra — lots of extra, Flores said.

Recently, breweries have turned to Lupulin Exchange, an online “spot” marketplace, to sell their surplus, directly competing with farmers and brokers, Flores said. Spot buying enables small brewers to purchase just the hops they need, and it’s becoming more commonplace, especially in light of the pandemic.

“Instead of people buying on the spot market in larger quantities for the next three months, they’re now buying quantities for the next three weeks,” Flores said.

All these factors are contributing to an uncertain future for local hop purveyors, who are traveling far and wide to find customers. Colorado Hop Co. has been experimenting with “new and exciting” public hop varieties that Ziebell is optimistic will earn the local hop scene some notoriety. Warren at High Wire Hops, however, is more blunt about his prospects.

“Without the Coors contract, we wouldn’t be in business,” he said.

“’Scary’ is my word if I were a Colorado hop grower,” added Flores.

Last winter, DellaBianca and Gehlhausen took samples to more than 250 Texas breweries in hopes of landing a sale. They had some success and are soon sending a truckload of wet or fresh hops to the Lone Star State, Gehlhausen said. Next winter, they’re planning a similar tour in their home state.

“We picked Montrose and Colorado for a handful of reasons, one of which is there are a lot of breweries and in general folks support local,” Gehlhausen said. “My hope is that more breweries do that.”

Willits Town Center developer sells last holdings for $18.7M to Kroenke-backed company

A shopper walks out of the Kitchen Collage in Willits Town Center on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A real estate investment company that rescued Willits Town Center from the economic morass of the Great Recession has sold its remaining interests in the development.

Platform Ventures, formerly known as Mariner Real Estate Management, sold portions of three buildings at Willits for $18,754,000, according to a deed filed with the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s office on July 30.

The sale included five commercial spaces in block 7, the building that is home to Capitol Creek Brewing; commercial space in block 10, home to the Kitchen Collage retail store; and a unit in Market Street Crossings, according to the deed.

The buyer was GKT Willits Two, of Columbia, Missouri. The address for the firm is the same as TKG Willits Town Center LLC, which purchased the Whole Foods Market building and Starbuck’s buildings in Willits from Platform Ventures in March 2016. That purchase was for $30.46 million.

GKT Willits and TKG Willits Town Center are companies affiliated with the Kroenke Group, the real estate arm of billionaire Stan Kroenke’s empire. Kroenke is the owner of the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids and Los Angeles Rams.

The Kroenke Group did not return a request for comment on Friday. The company has significant real estate holdings in Colorado’s Front Range.

Platform Ventures’ departure from Willits comes after a decade of success with the project for the company based in Kansas City. When Platform was known as Mariner Real Estate Management, it bought Willits Town Center out of foreclosure from Bank of America.

“They took a risk when nobody else wanted to,” said Basalt Mayor Bill Kane, who was town manager at the time Mariner entered the picture.

Kane recalled 2008-11 as a bleak time at Willits. The only the buildings that existed were those that housed Kitchen Collage and Korita’s. Development stalled on Labor Day 2008 when former owner and developer Joseph Freed & Associates ran into financing problems at the start of the recession. Construction stopped on the Whole Foods building and left a hole in the ground.

There was a danger that Bank of America would attend to other, bigger troubled assets before it got around to marketing Willits, Kane said. That would have left the town with that hole for an extended time.

Whole Foods’ commitment for a grocery store at Willits expired during the foreclosure. Mariner was wary of acquiring the site without an assurance of an anchor tenant. Kane and the town government helped nurture Whole Foods’ renewed commitment to a smaller space. Mariner finished the Whole Foods space and the development took off.

Mariner’s co-founder and co-president, Ryan Anderson, told The Aspen Times in December 2015 that his company paid about $20 million for the project, including mechanics’ liens. Development over the next few years boosted Mariner’s investment in Willits at that time to about $75 million, according to Anderson.

Mariner/Platform oversaw development of some of the commercial and residential spaces in Willits and also sold off portions. The biggest transactions included a $2,050,000 sale to Aspen Skiing Co. of vacant land that was developed for worker housing.

Anderson couldn’t be reached for comment Friday about his company’s sale of its remaining Willits holdings.

Platform’s website said it manages more than $1.4 billion in assets.

“We specialize in middle-market real estate opportunities and have invested throughout the U.S.” the website states. “As a result, our portfolio is diverse and our risk is not tied to a single niche or strategy.”

Kane said the Kroenke Group’s investments in 2016 and again this year “expresses confidence in Basalt.”


Breaking down Glenwood Springs lodging tax

An assistant points Rocky Mountaineer train passengers to their hotel destination outside the Glenwood Springs Train Station on Aug. 15, 2021.

Lodging tax collected in Glenwood Springs is primarily used for tourism promotion, but City Council recently debated increasing the tax to help fund affordable housing options.

Glenwood Springs currently taxes lodgers at 2.5%, and while council members did not solidify a proposed increase percentage during a special work session Tuesday, suggestions ranged as high as 7%.

According to data provided by Lisa Langer, the Visit Glenwood Springs director of tourism, 92.5% of the city’s lodging tax is used for the Tourism Promotion Budget. The city’s financial advisory board uses 7.5% of the tax to provide grants for nonprofit organizations, promote overnight stays and attract events, Langer wrote in an email. Additionally, the city moves $50,000 of the advisory board’s percentage into the general fund for events such as the Independence Day celebration, she added.

In order to increase the lodging tax, City Council would have to approve a tax question during their regular meeting Thursday, which would be added to the ballot in November for voters to approve or deny.

Mayor Jonathan Godes told council Tuesday that if voters approved the increased lodging tax, he would like to see the bulk of the additional money collected used to fund affordable housing options for Glenwood Springs. However, Council Member Steve Davis said he would like some of the money to help offset tourism impacts felt throughout the community, but especially keeping the downtown area clean.

When an overnight accommodation is purchased within city limits, the lodger is charged a tax of 11.1 percent. Of that, the state collects 2.9% sales tax, Garfield County collects 1%, Rural Transit Authority collects 1% and Glenwood Springs collects 2.5% lodging tax as well as 3.7% sales tax.

Glenwood Springs lodging taxes collected in past years:

2021 (as of May): Approximately $467,000

2020: Approximately $841,000

2019: Approximately $1.2 million

2018: Approximately $1.2 million

Compared to other Colorado cities of similar size, Glenwood Springs falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to collecting lodging tax.

Aspen collects 2.4% sales tax and 2% lodging tax. Durango collects 3.5% sales tax and 5.25% lodging tax. And, Vail collects 4% sales tax with no lodging tax.

On the high side, Denver collects a 10.75% lodging tax, and Aurora charges 8% lodging tax.

Attractions tax

In addition to increasing lodging taxes, City Council also discussed adding a question to the November ballot, which could introduce an attractions tax.

As described in the proposed tax question, an attractions tax could tack another fee onto ticketed events and attractions that charge for admission, such as the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Glenwood Hot Springs Resort and the Iron Mountain Hot Springs.

Godes proposed the attractions tax be introduced at 3.7%. City Attorney Karl Hanlon said the city does not currently collect sales tax on ticket sales or attractions admission.

While several members of the lodging community attended the Tuesday meeting, City Council does not permit public comments during special work sessions.

If they did, it’s unclear whether the lodging community would have much to say given the lack of information presented to the community prior to the meeting.

“It’s impossible to be for or against something when you don’t have any knowledge about it,” said Kevin Flohr, Glenwood Hot Springs Restort’s director of operations.

Flohr said he learned about the tax questions proposals Tuesday, but was unable to attend the meeting because of work. The proposal seemed rushed and like a “knee-jerk” reaction to a problem that has existed for years, he said.

“There’s a solution out there, but it takes a group of people coming together to try to solve this,” Flohr said. “It feels like it targets a tiny segment of businesses when every employer has the same issue. I think the entire community needs to have a part of this.”

Heather Austin, the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs sales and marketing manager said the two destinations were waiting for more information about the tax questions before formulating an opinion.

Similarly, Angie Anderson, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association president and CEO, said the association was waiting to understand what is being proposed before publicly declaring support or opposition for the initiative.

City Council is scheduled to review changes and vote on the tax questions Sept. 2, during their regular session. If approved, the questions must be submitted to the Garfield County Clerk’s office by Sept. 3 to appear on the November ballot.

Collecting revenue

In addition to Colorado’s 2.9% sales tax, lodgers pay some additional taxes. Below is a comparison of the lodging taxes collected by various Colorado communities. The list does not include taxes collected by the state for marketing districts, counties or other additional fees, which vary with each community.

Glenwood Springs: Sales Tax: 3.7% Lodging Tax: 2.5%

Steamboat Springs: Sales Tax: 4.5% Lodging Tax: 1%

Colorado Springs: Sales Tax: 3.07% Lodging Tax: 2%

Estes Park: Sales Tax: 8.7% Lodging Tax: 10.7%

Aspen: Sales Tax: 2.4% Lodging Tax: 2%

Vail: Sales Tax: 4%, no lodging tax

Durango: Sales Tax: 3.5% Lodging Tax: 5.25%

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.