Aspen Skiing Co. eyes midvalley projects to ease housing shortage | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Skiing Co. eyes midvalley projects to ease housing shortage

Aspen Skiing Co. officials acknowledge that affordable-housing challenges will likely get worse in coming years as aging employees — who have secure housing — hang up their skis.

Those established workers are likely to be replaced by newcomers or people who weren't able to secure housing.

Jim Laing, Skico vice president of human resources, said the company must add 600 to 800 beds over the next decade or so to offset the retirement of employees with secure housing.

"Really, that's just to stay even," he said.

Skico employs a lot of baby boomers who have been with the company for decades. Many were farsighted and fortunate enough to find a way to buy property or secure long-term rentals, Laing said. It's not as easy these days for new employees to secure housing, even in the midvalley, because of rapidly appreciating sales prices and rents, Laing said.

So, the housing shortage is likely to become more acute.

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"This is not a Skico issue. It's for the whole community to solve," Laing said.

Diverse inventory of housing

Skico owns about 600 units from Aspen to Carbondale and leases another 100 units in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, Laing said. That supply doesn't meet the demand among employees.

The company hires roughly 1,000 seasonal workers each year for its four ski areas, tourist accommodations and restaurants. It was able to offer housing to about half of them this year, Laing said.

To make a dent in that demand, Skico will have to go beyond the 600 to 800 beds Laing figures are needed just to offset the retiring workers who have their own housing. It needs to build hundreds of additional units.

"Our priority is seasonal housing right now," Laing said.

Skico's housing inventory includes the Club Commons at Snowmass Village, mostly seasonal housing; the Heather Bed, a converted lodge near the base of Aspen Highlands; the Holiday House in downtown Aspen, which provides a mix of 43 seasonal and longer-term beds; and the Snow Eagle Lodge in Aspen.

For the second winter, it will lease the Hotel Lenado, a former lodge that supplies 40-some beds. The owners are awaiting approval from the city of Aspen to convert the property into mix of lodge rooms and free-market units. The Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission approved a proposal for four to nine lodge rooms and two-free market units. Until that happens, they have been willing to rent to Skico for the winter.

Skico also has several "one off" units around Aspen, according to Laing.

"We probably picked up another 100 beds," he said.

Big push downvalley

Midvalley is key to Skico's housing because the prices are cheaper. The company has purchased several parcels in the Basalt area. It also acquired a vacant office building there last month and plans to relocate some workers there starting in 2016.

Skico purchased the Sopris View Apartments in El Jebel in 2007. The 62 two-bedroom units are 100 percent full. About 75 percent of the tenants are Skico employees, according to Laing. When a vacancy comes up, Skico employees are given first crack at the space.

Skico also converted Thunder River Lodge in Carbondale into seasonal and long-term housing with 43 beds.

Skico aims not to charge more than one-third of an employee's gross pay for company-owned lodging.

"A lot of people (in the free market) are paying 50 percent of their seasonal pay," Laing said.

Skico's most recent affordable-housing project suffered a financial hiccup. Prior to the recession, the company committed financing for 30 townhomes and single-family homes at Keator Grove, a project undertaken by private developers along Highway 82 on the south side of Carbondale. The units were offered to Skico employees at cost, but sales were sluggish during the recession. Many of the units are rentals, but employees have the option to buy.

Skico eyes Basalt projects

Skico hasn't pursued an affordable housing project since Keator Grove, but it is assessing opportunities on three different properties in Basalt. Skico owns 1.6 acres near Basalt High School and is engaged in talks with Pitkin County on a joint venture, Laing said. It also owns the Aspen-Basalt Campground adjacent to the Willits subdivision and has informed tenants there that it will eventually pursue redevelopment of the 5.5-acre site.

Skico also owns 1 acre east of Big O Tires that is currently used for overflow parking by the tire shop.

No applications have been submitted for the projects, but Basalt has indicated it would welcome affordable housing.

The most recent additions to the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority inventory were 82 units at Burlingame in 2012 and 20 units built by a private developer under the housing-credit-certificate program, according to Aspen Assistant City Manager Barry Crook. The housing authority oversees administration of about 2,900 units, including ones with deed restrictions that were constructed by private developers.

Seasonal units overseen by the housing authority — Marolt and Burlingame among them — were snatched up early this year and are completely occupied, Deputy Director Cindy Christensen said.

Other resort operators also are taking steps to ease worker-housing shortages. Vail Resorts announced earlier this month that it will spend $30 million in coming years to build affordable housing in the resorts where it operates. It wants to use the funds in partnership with the cities, counties and other businesses in the resorts.

Vail Resorts owns and manages 3,200 beds, according to a company statement. It has added 650 beds in the past three years.

scondon@aspentimes.com