Basalt hotel developer senses hotel support
The president of Lowe Enterprises said he is “neither offended or intimidated” by opposition that has materialized to his firm’s proposal to build a boutique hotel and condominiums in Basalt.
Jim DeFrancia said in an interview Friday that the company’s plan has received an overwhelming amount of support from Basalt residents who attended an open house March 14 or learned about it some other way.
If the numbers were reversed and the apparent opposition outweighed the support, DeFrancia said, it would be cause for concern.
Lowe Enterprises has a contract to buy 2.4 acres of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The property is the portion of the Pan and Fork site closest to Two Rivers Road. The town of Basalt is developing the 2.9 acres closest to the Roaring Fork River as a park.
Lowe Enterprises unveiled a proposal recently to build a 60-room boutique hotel and 12 affiliated luxury condominiums as well as 40 condos targeted for year-round residents. A formal application hasn’t been submitted yet. DeFrancia said that is likely coming in June.
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said at a work session March 24 that she cannot support Lowe’s proposal. She wants to see a significant part of the Lowe property left as open space so that a regional park and events venue can be created. Her comments sparked a debate on Basalt’s streets and in letters to the Aspen newspapers.
DeFrancia said he is “understanding” of the view held by Whitsitt and other foes of the project and “to a degree, sympathetic.”
“They’re entitled to that,” he said of the opposing opinion. “I’m not offended.”
However, DeFrancia said Lowe Enterprises isn’t willing or able to sit on the project for a lengthy community battle.
“I will say we’re certainly not interested in a cat fight,” he said.
Lowe’s design team feels they have created a project that is “responsive” to the vision hashed out during an extensive community-planning process. Basalt engaged residents in what it called the Our Town planning process.
“At the end of the day, I feel very positive about this,” he said.
Two questions that have popped up about the plan are the lack of affordable housing and phasing that starts with condos without a guarantee the hotel will be built.
DeFrancia said Lowe Enterprises is “very aware” of the need for affordable housing in Basalt and its obligation to provide it as the developer of a project. Lowe Enterprises will meet the obligation and not evade it, he said.
DeFrancia is exploring affordable-housing options with Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon. On-site housing is an option, DeFrancia said.
As for the hotel, DeFrancia said Lowe Enterprises believes it will work at the site and it wants to pursue that part of the project. It built and manages The Gant Condominiums in Aspen and several properties in Snowmass Village. The Basalt hotel would be integrated into the lodging arm of the company.
DeFrancia said he cannot commit to constructing the hotel.
“To be perfectly honest, I cannot guarantee it,” he said.
Once the Rocky Mountain Institute completes planning for programming at its office and innovation center, which is under construction next door to the Pan and Fork site, Lowe officials will work with the institute on its needs for lodging. That will determine if the hotel can be built, he said.
“I hate to use the ‘trust me’ phrase,” DeFrancia said. But that’s where his firm is at with the hotel: If it makes economic sense to build it, Lowe will build it.
DeFrancia said he would be willing to discuss Lowe providing the town government with an option to buy the hotel site if Lowe cannot proceed with construction. That would give the town the option of seeking another hotel developer or switching uses.
Officials of Lowe Enterprises and the town will meet in a public meeting April 14 to discuss a predevelopment agreement.
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