City Council blasts owners of Jerome
ASPEN Three Aspen City Council members blasted the owners of the Hotel Jerome on Tuesday, calling their intentions to renovate disingenuous, while the mayor said the council could have treated them better. Reactions came Tuesday upon learning that the Oklahoma Publishing Co. – which bought the Main Street landmark in June 2005 for $33.7 million – is selling the 92-bedroom hotel. The sale is expected to close within 60 days, and a confidentiality agreement prevented the disclosure of the buyer.The pending pullout sent a jolt through Aspen’s city government, chiefly because officials had spent hours hammering out details of a massive renovation, estimated to cost as much as $50 million. The owners’ withdrawal – according to Steve Bartolin, CEO of the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, which the Oklahoma Publishing Co. also owns – was a result of the city’s micromanagement of the project.Council members said the news was difficult to digest. “I felt like I was kicked in the stomach,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said. Said Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss: “I feel like I’ve been hit in the gut.” Klanderud said she believed Oklahoma Publishing’s explanation for selling the hotel. And while the council in December approved the renovation plan, – a whittled-down version that nixed a fourth-floor addition – it may have been too involved in the process, she said. “I don’t think we facilitated [the process] as well as we might have been able to,” she said. “And I think there is a concern here [on City Council] that we’re losing our character and we’re losing our history. But I don’t think those fears were supported by this particular ownership.”The approval also included the condition that changes to the lodge’s historic elements require clearance from the city’s historic preservation officer. The hotel was scheduled to close for the renovations for eight months, starting April 2. Instead, it will be closed from April 2 through May 25. “I felt in the City Council meetings there were a number of concerns expressed, and I felt that we were micromanaging it,” Klanderud said. “How far can the government go, or how far should it go, in determining what should happens? If the intentions are we want to preserve something, then maybe we should buy it.”But DeVilbiss, as well as councilmen Torre and Jack Johnson, doubt the owners’ reasons for leaving.”I really don’t think the city of Aspen scared them out of town,” Torre said. “They’re hoteliers. That’s what they do, and if they don’t have a thick enough skin to go through the renovation proposal … I highly doubt that was the biggest motivating factor to leave.”Torre said he expects the current owners to see a windfall from the sale.”They could very well sell it for $60 million,” he said. “I think that’s what the motivating factor was. It’s sad to see them go, but I think it’s a more sad commentary about the state of real estate transactions, the development potential and the free-market forces that are in play here in Aspen.”Johnson also said the council did not micromanage the project. “They chose to go through the land-use process to get their PUD [Planned Unit Development] to do specific things, and when you do that everything gets on the table,” he said. “You might not like that, but they had a lot of good counsel. And that was in December; this is March.”They weren’t treated any differently than anyone else in this town.”The most frustrating aspect of the pullout for DeVilbiss was the representations the owners made.”Maybe my memory is faulty, but I thought they said they were in for the long haul, and they said how they had bought the hotel in Colorado Springs and how well they had done with that and how much they respected its heritage,” he said. “I was just really disappointed, just terribly disappointed. I think we’ve been treated disingenuously.”DeVilbiss said the council did scrutinize the project, but only because it would be in the public’s best interest. With the trend of fractional-ownership hotels and the fact that the Jerome was built in 1889, the council would have been remiss to not watch the project with a careful eye. “All of us believe we owned the Hotel Jerome, we care a great deal for the Jerome, and we were careful to see that the Jerome’s historical place in the city of Aspen was respected in this remodeling, and they were going to do it,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to me that the amount of oversight was intrusive or unreasonable at all, given the Jerome’s place in the community. And really, all we said was that the Historic Preservation Commission was going to have an oversight role, and that was going to be based on photographs and documented history of the place.”I was just intensely disappointed and am intensely disappointed. I just felt like we weren’t dealt with straight.”Johnson conceded that dealing with City Council isn’t always a cakewalk, but developers and property owners know that before entering negotiations.”I’m sure that anybody that buys the Jerome buys it with the understanding that they’re buying into Aspen,” he said. “And if they prefer to do business in Oklahoma or Colorado Springs, where the political climate is more to their taste, I suggest they do their business there. They weren’t prepared to run with the big dogs. “And frankly I think what happened is they weren’t prepared to be in this market, either financially or politically, and when they got to Aspen and saw the cost of the renovation, they decided to cut their losses and get out,” he said. “And instead of being honest about that, they chose to blame the city.”Hotel Jerome general manager Tony DiLucia praised the outgoing owners.”There has never been such a compassionate ownership,” he said Tuesday. “This is sad for Aspen. If only they knew how incredible they were.”Rick Carroll can be reached at email@example.com
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