Aspen Highlands trying to attract some vitality

Brent Gardner-SmithAspen Times Staff Writer

In an effort to bring some life to the new Highlands Village this summer, the merchants there have created a series of events, including a free Friday-night concert series.Paid for by a new merchants’ association at Highlands Village, the concerts and other events will cost over $100,000 to produce, according to David Norden, project manager for Hines, which built the village.The concert series starts Friday with a show by Acoustic Syndicate from 4 to 7 p.m. There will be outdoor shows every Friday through Aug. 23. Bands scheduled to play include Liza and the Soul Stars, Likewise, Sucker and Little Blue.The campaign to draw more people to Highlands Village also includes a community picnic on July 4, a children’s carnival on July 24, a local music fair on Aug. 25 and other events throughout the summer. The events and marketing for the “Rediscover Highlands” effort is being handled by the Darnauer Group, an Aspen-based public relations and marketing firm lead by Jeannette Darnauer.”Our theme, ‘Rediscover Highlands,’ is an invitation for locals to experience a feeling of the old days at Highlands,” Darnauer said. “Our activities are intended to evoke a bit of the maverick spirit and irreverence that has marked the history of this mountain.”And invoking that spirit will be easier starting on July 4 when a new bar and restaurant opens at Highlands in the space first occupied by the Commonwealth Pub.The Pub shut its doors in the middle of last winter. Now, the operators of the popular Thunderbowl Cafe and Market are going to take over the space and operate it as Iguanas, a Mexican restaurant.The inside of the dark-wood space is being painted a tropical yellow, blue and red, and the unofficial opening of the bar and grill is planned for July 4.Scott Franklin of the Thunderbowl Cafe will be managing Iguanas, which will also offer catering for weddings and special events from the restaurant’s large kitchen.The marketing campaign for Highlands comes as Hines prepares to complete the construction of the village in the next 90 days. The company will then leave the operation to the Aspen Skiing Co., the Ritz Carlton Club and the merchants who have opened up shops and restaurants in the village.”We are quickly completing the work here, and it is going to be turned over to the owners and operators,” said Norden.The Hines staff at Highlands peaked at about 20 people and today is at nine. By the end of next winter, no Hines employees are expected to be working at Highlands.”With any real estate development project, you have a ramp up and a ramp down,” said Norden. “At Highlands, we are staffing appropriately to meet our needs. Our construction will be complete in 60 to 90 days, the programming is up and running, and lot of the operational pieces have been handed off to the ongoing entities. And so with that transition, our staffing will drop off over the next six months.”And as of July 1, Georgia Taylor Hanson will no longer be working for Hines.Hanson has been the public face of Highlands Village since the project entered the approval process in the early 1990s. She also helped develop the vision for the village and shaped the emerging retail mix at Highlands.”At this point in time, Georgia’s primary responsibilities have been satisfied,” said Norden. “She is now a happy resident at Aspen Highlands.”Hanson, along with husband Andy, was given the opportunity to purchase one of the two deed-restricted, single-family homes at Highlands.The real estate sales at Aspen Highlands are almost complete. Of the 31 single-family ski-in, ski-out lots, Hines has sold 29. It has also sold all but four of the 31 townhomes in the village, including 16 of them to Four Peaks, LLC, which plans to resell them to individual buyers.The Ritz Carlton Club has sold 350 of the 540 1/12th interests available in the 45-unit Elk Horn Lodge for between $160,000 and $490,000. And the Club is preparing to bring on the market the 26 additional time-share units in the White River Lodge, which will be completed this summer and ready for occupancy by December.And while there are a number of businesses up and running at Highlands Village this summer, including Durrance Sports, the Worldlink Cafe, Joshua & Co. and the Willow Creek Bistro, there are still five open storefronts to be rented.[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]