Aspen Mountain’s base development plan blows up
A top city of Aspen official said it felt like a “punch to the gut” when a key developer walked away from the voter-approved Lift One corridor project at the base of Aspen Mountain last week.
Lift One Lodge developers Aaron and Michael Brown informed the city Wednesday that they are bailing because they no longer have confidence in the Gorsuch Haus group.
Jessica Garrow, the city’s Community Development director and one of three officials who received a letter from the Browns on July 17, said it’s difficult to accept that years of work, partnerships and public buy-in have gone to waste.
“It’s sad to see all the work, effort, time and a public vote be for not,” she said Saturday.
Aspen City Council will meet in executive session Monday night to discuss the ramifications of last week’s announcement.
In March, Aspen voters narrowly approved more than 320,000 square feet of commercial space, including the timeshare project that is Lift One Lodge and the Gorsuch Haus, an 81-room luxury hotel at the western base of Aspen Mountain.
Along with those properties came a new chairlift to Dean Street, a ski museum, a bar and restaurant, an underground parking garage and open space that would serve as a return skiway in the winter and gardens in the summer.
Most of that is gone now, including the chairlift coming down the hill 500 feet farther than it is currently, as well as a $4.36 million city contribution.
Instead, the Browns are relying on their 2011-approved project, which includes roughly 100,000 square feet with 22 timeshare units and five residential condos.
Those entitlements expire in November 2021.
Lift One Lodge also will have to relocate the Skiers Chalet Steakhouse for dorm-style employee housing units, as well as move and refurbish the Skiers Chalet Lodge to make way for a ski museum.
Relying on the 2011 approval, Lift One Lodge is required to provide housing for 35 employees, which is 100 percent mitigation.
Under the voter-approved plan, both lodges received breaks on affordable housing by relying on incentives in the land use code.
Between the two projects, a total of 67 employees would have been housed.
What happens to the Gorsuch Haus remains to be seen.
Led by partners Jeff Gorsuch and Bryan Peterson and Lowes developer Jim DeFrancia, the original proposal for a smaller hotel was tabled in the spring of 2017.
It was put on hold so Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch developers could work with Aspen Skiing Co. and the city to bring a new chairlift to Dean Street.
City Council will meet Monday night to discuss what last week’s announcement will mean going forward.
“We are trying to analyze the impacts and what this means,” said City Attorney Jim on Friday. “It has significant ramifications, no doubt about it.”
With Lift One Lodge’s departure from the overall corridor plan, it could make the two ordinances that voters approved null and void.
“We are analyzing all of it,” True said.
Garrow, True and Jennifer Phelan, the city’s community development deputy director, received the Browns’ letter through their attorney on Wednesday, a day before key players were to gather for a planning meeting.
“My client has not been able to get a sufficient level of comfort that the Gorsuch Haus project will move forward on a timely basis to ensure construction of the new lift,” wrote attorney Bart Johnson on behalf of the Browns. “The Lift One Lodge team is extremely concerned about proceeding with their revised plan if there is no assurance the new lift will get built as intended.
“We were assured by the Gorsuch Haus representatives that they would address this concern,” Johnson continued. “But now that the Gorsuch Haus project is being marketed for sale, we have no way of knowing who the buyer will be, when or whether a sale will close, or whether the new owner will share Lift One Lodge’s level of commitment to the project. Thus, because of my client’s assessment of the elapsed time, unkept promises, inevitable interdiction of financial third parties, and the approaching deadlines required under the voter-approved plan, as well the economic risks, my client does not see any alternative other than to stop work on the new project and focus on the old. The Lift One Lodge team is truly sorry for themselves, the city and its guests and residents.”
Gorsuch’s team shot back the next day with a letter from their attorney to the city, contending that Lift One Lodge representatives are lying, or are ill-informed.
“The Gorsuch Haus ownership and project team stand ready, willing and able to follow through and complete the new Lift 1 base area entitlements in accordance with the Gorsuch Haus ordinance approved by the voters,” wrote attorney Tom Todd. “We wish to dispel any notion that efforts by Gorsuch Haus ownership to recapitalize the Gorsuch Haus project may slow down or cast uncertainty over the ability of the project to be developed as approved.
“Irrespective of this activity, the current Gorsuch Haus ownership has ample capital resources to perform all its purchase agreement commitments with Aspen Skiing Company, to finalize the entitlements, and to construct the project,” Todd continued. “There are no ‘unkept promises’ or ‘interdictions of financial third parties’ that are impeding the Gorsuch Haus project team.”
Garrow said she’s hopeful two parties can work out their differences.
“This is disappointing and we really hope the two private developers can work together, like they have in the past,” she said, adding the city’s role is fairly limited. “At this point, there is not much of a role for the city but the city is ready and willing to help if necessary.”