Aspen City Council commits $4.3M to Aspen Mountain base redevelopment
December 11, 2018
The majority of Aspen City Council late Monday night agreed to put in $4.36 million as part of a public-private partnership with developers who are proposing to redevelop the western portal at the base of Aspen Mountain.
The 3-2 decision came at around midnight, with councilman Adam Frisch making the swing vote in favor of taxpayer money going to pay for a new ski museum and improvements to Dean Street.
Frisch last week — and up until Monday's vote — had taken the position that developers stand to make a sizable profit and questioned whether a public subsidy was necessary.
"I don't see the value of contributing millions of dollars," he said Monday night, adding it's a bad use of public money. "I don't believe there's not added value" for Lift One Lodge owners who relocated their buildings to accommodate a new chairlift to come down to Dean Street and also gained additional square footage.
But once developers agreed to receive taxpayer dollars after the chairlift is operational, Frisch was supportive of the subsidy.
"I have always focused on bringing the best version of the project I could to the community, and once I had another level of inducement to get the lift spinning as quickly as possible, I made my own compromise," Frisch wrote via email Tuesday evening.
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The project includes new lodges, the Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus, along with a new Telemix chairlift that's accessed at Dean Street, a relocated and refurbished Skiers Chalet Lodge that will provide 11,000 square feet to house a ski museum, ticketing services and ski patrol and new public parks, to name a few amenities.
Combined, the properties would provide 185 new lodge keys, including 104 in the Lift One Lodge timeshare project and 81 in Gorsuch Haus as a traditional hotel.
Frisch had argued that Lift One Lodge developers Michael and Aaron Brown had previously committed to paying for the build-out of a ski museum in the old Skiers Chalet Lodge.
When they bought the Lift One Lodge timeshare project and its entitlements from another development group in 2015, that commitment was attached to the approval.
The approval has since been amended and now the Browns are seeking approval of a new land-use application to accommodate council's desire for a chairlift to come farther down the hill.
"You bought the obligation; honor that," Frisch told Michael Brown at Monday's meeting.
Brown intimated that if there wasn't city buy-in to pay for the ski museum, the project and the Skiers Chalet Lodge could disappear.
There is no historical designation on the building and therefore could be demolished, he pointed out.
"That aspect of the project will change dramatically," Brown said. "Maybe we don't come back; I don't know."
Councilman Ward Hauenstein, who was in favor of a public-private partnership, said he felt like he was in a game of poker.
"I feel like we're calling someone's bluff," he said, joking that he was in for $360,000 to keep the conversation going.
Hauenstein said because there appears to be community support for the entire corridor project and it's headed for a March 5 vote, he was comfortable with taking a leap of faith.
"I think it's shortsighted of council to not make this work," he said.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins agreed and said the historic resources associated with the project — along with providing a venue for international ski racing and much-needed lodge rooms — are enough for her to support putting taxpayer dollars toward it.
"This is going to be an enormous community benefit in the end," she said. "Twenty years from now or 30 years from now, people will thank us for having done this. I am certain of it."
Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Bert Myrin did not support a subsidy for the project, arguing that the community has given up enough concessions, such as added square footage and less affordable housing — although the development is in compliance with the land-use code.
The ski museum, to operated by the Aspen Historical Society, is estimated to cost the city $3.6 million.
The city's contribution to Dean Street improvements would be $760,000 toward an estimated $1.2 million price tag, if approved by city voters.
The municipal government also would be responsible for between $1 million and $1.5 million to develop two public parks in the corridor.
Council continued the public hearing until Jan. 7 to hash out final details of the entire corridor plan, which has been three years in the making.
It is expected that council will vote on an ordinance that would go to a public vote March 5. The deadline to get a question on the ballot is Jan. 14.