Council shows faith in Jerome
December 11, 2006
Whittled-down plans to renovate Aspen’s Hotel Jerome earned City Council approval Monday.The hotel’s new owners, the Oklahoma Publishing Co., had already nixed plans for several penthouse suites. Monday night, the owners’ representatives restated their dedication to preserving the historic interiors in the original building’s ground floor after the council raised concerns about those spaces at its last meeting.For many at Monday’s meeting, giving the green light to alter the Jerome was a question of faith. Without specific language outlining exactly what can and cannot be done inside the building, the community would have to believe the owners’ claims that they will respect the hotel’s history – a leap many people appeared willing to take.Councilwoman Rachel Richards, however, wanted written assurances, citing the fireplace and floor tiles in the lobby among the historic elements she wants to see preserved.Planner Sunny Vann, representing the owners, said they were willing to include binding language in the approvals, and during a midevening break, the owners’ representatives worked with city staff to develop an addition to the approval that wasn’t so broad it could impinge upon the spring construction schedule.That addition requires the owners to submit a written inventory of all original features remaining inside the areas of the hotel that are generally accessible to the public. The inventory also will identify what the owners plan to do with those elements, and the city’s historic preservation officer will review those plans for approval.Vann deferred to Steve Bartolin, president and chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Publishing Co.’s Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, to assure the council – and the community – that their intent is to respect the hotel’s history.”It will be very lovingly done,” he said. “It would be sinful to do it any other way.”Bartolin offered historic and present-day photographs of the Broadmoor to show the care with which Oklahoma Publishing Co. has restored, rather than preserved, a hotel that had in many ways changed significantly since it was originally built.Representatives for the owners noted that very few original items remain at the Jerome, but the owners will either preserve those in place or reuse them appropriately.For example, Bartolin said the tiles Richards referred to were originally crafted using uranium and cannot be duplicated.”We plan to take those up and use those somewhere else in the hotel,” he said. “They wouldn’t go away.”Although the J-Bar’s actual bar needs repairs, Bartolin said they would be done “restoratively” and that there would be no structural changes to the interior of the restaurant.”The J-Bar remains as it is,” he said.The fireplace in the lobby sitting area, which had to be restored after previous renovations, will be retained as well, he assured Richards.Previous owner Dick Butera recalled the hotel’s condition when he decided to buy it. At the time, he said, it was facing condemnation – only the J-Bar saw regular use.He knew the hotel probably wasn’t a money-making venture when he and then-partner Jim McManus decided to buy it, but they saw the value in preserving the hotel.”We really felt a community obligation more than a monetary obligation,” he said.He told the council he believes the current owners feel the same obligation.”The soul of the community is in their hands, and they know it,” he said. “They’ll be great citizens of our community. I know they will.”The owners found favor with local Bert Myrin, who said he usually opposes such plans.”I think this is what development in town should be,” he said.With the addition of the language offering some historic oversight, several council members expressed faith in the new owners as well.”I really trust your interior renovations. I think you have the best interest of that building at heart,” Councilman Torre said. “Thank you for being good stewards of the Hotel Jerome.”Torre went on to ask the owners to renovate in a tasteful and understated style and to continue to let the public use the courtyard as it currently does. Representatives promised to keep that area available to the public, except for pool areas that are generally restricted to use by hotel guests.Mayor Helen Klanderud said such trust was necessary in developments such as the Jerome, and she offered her confidence in the owners as well.”We can’t regulate everything in the words. We can’t predict the future and nail everything down,” she said. “It takes trust on both sides to move forward, [and] I have faith in your stewardship.”After the meeting, Bartolin was pleased with the decision, despite any concerns over their intentions.”One of the things that makes this work for us is the citizenry is so protective,” Bartolin said. “We’ve got to prove it now.”Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is email@example.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.