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Aspens Limelight Lodge nearly ready to reopen

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
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ASPEN After two years of intense construction, tens of millions of dollars and plenty of controversy, the Limelight Lodge is returning to Aspens hotel mix this ski season. The 126-room hotel on Monarch Street is in its final stages of construction and is scheduled to open next month the week of Thanksgiving. With the dismal economy and uneasiness among tourism officials, the hotels ownership is banking on filling the rooms by providing affordable rates. If we are going to make money, weve got to have high occupancy, said Steve Szymanski, a part-owner and developer of the property. Weve got to rent everything. Brad Wyatt, the new general manager at the Limelight, said bookings through April are strong, although he declined to share the numbers. Theres been plenty of criticism of the 100,000-square-foot project in recent years. It has been a topic of numerous conversations in City Hall, suggesting that at least some people believe it was a mistake to allow it. Its sheer size and construction impacts to the downtown area have many people in the community watching it go up with raised eyebrows. Elected officials also have questioned whether the rooms will be rented at affordable prices, particularly since the hotels ownership billed it as such during the approval process. Based on rental rates provided by the hotels management team, it appears that promise has been kept. Wyatt said the average rate for a standard room this winter is $300, and early season and early spring rates for those same accommodations will be less than $200. The hotels website, limelightlodge.com, sets the price for a six-night stay for two people, beginning Dec. 20, at $276 a day for a standard 325-square-foot room. Prices get more expensive during peak season and for larger rooms. Of course, there are more expensive options the upper floors have larger rooms, gas fireplaces, decks, full kitchens and sweeping views of downtown Aspen and the mountains. Those will rent between $500 and $1,200 a night during peak season, Wyatt said. The 126th room is actually an apartment or a penthouse that will rent for whatever people are willing to pay for it. The 1,200-square-foot unit boasts unobstructed views of Independence Pass, a sun-drenched deck, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large kitchen. Well have to call the police to get them out of here, Szymanski said of the digs. He added that the Music Associates of Aspen already has indicated it would like to put staff and faculty there next summer.The penthouse is just one of the high-end offerings that will enable the Limelight to operate in the black. Next door, 14 condos at Monarch on the Park are also owned by the Limelight ownership. Profits from the sales of those will go toward the Limelight operation. Thirteen condos have been sold; they were priced between $3 million and $15 million each. Dale Paas, who is part of the three generations that have run the family-owned and operated business since the 1950s, said he and his family liquated most of what they owned and financed the rest to pay for the new hotel. In todays market and construction prices, there was no way we couldve done this without those condos, he said, adding it will take years to pay off the hotel and get the business to break even. Hopefully, well get out from under it in ten years, Paas said, adding that the cost of the building was a gross amount of money. As for his feelings about the community criticism, Paas said he understands the construction phase was tough, but he hopes people realize the Limelight is an asset to the resort. It would have been great to build this sucker in Mesa and truck it in when it was a bright yellow building I totally empathized with them, he said. But now it looks like it fits in and as soon as we get open, the citizens will get the ultimate benefit when this works, we will look really smart. The secret to success, they hope, is relying on the same business model that the family has employed since the Limelight (spelled Limelite in those days) opened as a three-room bed and breakfast. Family owned, moderately priced and group orientation, Szymanski said, adding the Limelight plans to be the anchor hotel for local events like Ruggerfest, Food & Wine, the MotherLode Volleyball tournament and Winter X Games. This is unprecedented that we can return 126 rooms to the inventory, Szymanski said. We are all about renting rooms and that hinges on long-term relationships. Hotel management is marketing to past guests, hoping they will return again for the same type of service and prices. They also are offering early season deals (see below). What we need to do is get some real live guests in here and get after it, Paas said. Also, part of the business model is to keep it simple. That means limited service at the hotel there is no spa, restaurant or bar. Instead, the Limelight will offer what it did before an expanded continental breakfast, cheese and wine aprs ski, two hot tubs and a year-round pool. Other amenities include concierge service, luggage storage and changing rooms off the pool deck. A completed hotel room used as a showcase gives a glimpse as to what guests get for their money: double-vanity bathroom sinks, kitchenettes, flat-screen TVs, large closets, iPod docks and high-speed wireless Internet access. The third and fourth floors hold the deluxe rooms; corner units have vestibule entrances that can be locked off, and are designed for large groups and families. Szymanski said the Limelight Lodge has a standard to meet set by comparable hotels around the country, like the Westin and Marriot chains. They consider their competition to be in resorts like Beaver Creek and Park City, and not so much other local lodges like the Molly Gibson and Hotel Aspen. Limelight management isnt too concerned about other local lodging properties opening this year because they offer a different product. The fact that we are a hotel is what we are focused on, Wyatt said, adding other local lodging often consists of fractional ownership units and condos. Construction crews are working furiously to finish the details on the property and management is on the site every day overseeing the fine points. Paas has enlisted his nephew, Forrest Wooley and his son, Westin, to operate food and beverage and reservations. Along with Szymanski, Paas owns the Limelight with his sister Sue Wooley, and mother, Margaret Paas Orr. We think weve got a great product, Paas said. csack@aspentimes.com

This article is a feature of Inside Business, published Tuesdays in The Aspen Times.


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