City: No more making it easy to lose lodges
Lodging preservation in Aspen is poised to get a new emphasis on exactly that – preservation.After eight months of tinkering by city officials and lodge owners, a reworked lodging preservation program will end the speedy conversion of lodge properties into free-market homes.That expedited review process for conversion into other uses was part of the original preservation program, de-signed to let some struggling lodges go out of business. But with some lodges gone and the town’s economy-priced accommodations dwindling, local officials agree it’s time to do away with that option.Lodging preservation was the focus of a city work session Monday.Many provisions of the initial preservation program, which ran for two years before expiring last May, will be maintained.The program will continue to offer planning exemptions to ease lodge expansions, renovations and even replacement of a lodge with another lodge. But both city officials and lodge owners agree that the provisions to ease conversion have fulfilled their purpose – to strengthen the lodging market overall – and don’t need to be extended.”In two years, three lodges took the easy way out and it did the job. It did exactly what it was supposed to do and I think the rest of us are better off for it,” said Michael Behrendt, owner of the St. Moritz.The primary intention of the preservation program is to maintain the small lodging bed base in town – and the more affordable accommodations they provide to tourists.According to Aspen Central Reservations, two-thirds of Aspen’s small lodges are in the “economy” category, with rates averaging $150 or less per night. And given both land and construction prices, the best way to retain economy lodging is to retain the lodges.”I can tell you right now there won’t be a Days Inn built on Main Street. Existing lodges are the best chance to keep prices affordable because the land underneath is already paid for,” Behrendt said.Retaining the town’s current bed base couldn’t be more crucial because competition is heating up, noted Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations.In Colorado alone, there are about 1,900 new beds on the resort market. Then, if you add other American and Canadian ski resorts into the mix, the figure jumps to about 10,000 new sources of competition in terms of tourist beds, Tomcich said.Local officials needed little convincing. At yesterday’s session involving the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council, the value of protecting Aspen’s existing bed base was not a matter of contention.As for converting some lodges to employee housing, council members agreed to retain that option as a provision within the program.”I think very few working lodges lend themselves to affordable housing, either by configuration or something else,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “Most that are in good shape and working well as lodges will be more profitable if they stay as lodges.”The second edition of the lodging preservation program will next be presented formally in public hearings to the P&Z and City Council.
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City of Aspen officials are trying to figure out what the downtown core looks like this winter as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state and in some parts of the country.