Developer pledges to house all of new Lodge’s employees
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” In hopes of gaining the approval of a critical City Council, the developers of a hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain have done what no other developer has proposed: Housing 100 percent of its employees.
That’s the latest incarnation of the Lodge at Aspen Mountain proposal, which has been revised numerous times by Centurion Partners since the project’s inception more than four years ago.
Centurion Partners principal John Sarpa said on Thursday his company is committed to housing all 170 of its employees either on site or on a property located at the Aspen Airport Business Center. Centurion just put the three-acre parcel under contract. It’s currently where Aspen Mini Storage is located.
After being rejected by the City Council last month, Sarpa scaled his project back by reducing it 24,000 square feet, offering fewer hotel rooms and eliminating whole ownership units.
Because the facility was smaller, Sarpa reasoned it would require fewer workers and committed to housing 73 percent of the employees generated, or 135 people.
But because of the recent land found at the AABC and possible state funding to help underwrite rental units, Sarpa is confident that providing 100 percent housing is economically attainable.
Centurion enlisted the help of affordable housing experts Capmark to find alternate financial mechanisms to pay for the housing. In Colorado, it would be through tax credits that are allotted based on whether applicants can apply.
“We have good reason to believe we qualify,” Sarpa said. “Now we are comfortable to committing to 100 percent housing.”
Providing enough affordable housing for the lodge’s employees was a sticking point with the City Council when it denied the project in August, despite that the city code only requires 60 percent. However, recent discussions indicate the council is considering requiring developers in the future to house 100 percent of their employees.
City Council members challenged Sarpa and his development team on the housing issue, saying their estimate on the number of employees wasn’t enough to operate a hotel of that size.
Sarpa countered by agreeing to be audited annually to ensure 170 people were employed. If more were to be found, Centurion would build more housing.
“Even if we are wrong there is a check and balance system,” he said.
Sarpa submitted amendments to the development application earlier this week. The City Council is expected to review the proposal on Monday.
The new proposal reduces the project by 24,000 square feet, or 14 percent of floor area.
Eliminating the snowmelt system on South Aspen Street made it economically feasible to do away with the four whole ownership units, which were 3,600 square feet each. However, four fractional units have been added to the original 21. The residential component has been reduced 7,181 square feet, and the largest units have gone from about 3,600 square feet to about 2,800 square feet.
The 80 hotel rooms have been shaved down to 73, and their size has been reduced from 527 square feet to 520 square feet. The number of suites has been reduced from 24 to 10, and the standard hotel rooms have been increased from 56 to 61. The overall reduction of hotel rooms is 10,374 square feet.
A large portion of the hotel’s spa area has been reduced, as well as the back of the house operations, totaling nearly 6,500 square feet. Thirty parking spaces in the underground parking garage also have been removed.
The changes have enabled developers to remove the entire top third floor of the south building and reduce the highest point from 55 feet to 45 feet.
The changes were prompted after Sarpa and his partners reviewed the video tape of the Aug. 13 City Council meeting when the project was rejected in a 3-2 vote.
The majority of the City Council preferred allowing Centurion to build 14 townhomes and 17 affordable-housing units on 2.4 acres where the Mine Dump apartments sat for years on South Aspen Street. Centurion already has approval for the townhomes from a previous vote by a different council.
But Sarpa and his supporters would prefer to build a hotel, which would provide rental rooms to a resort that has lost thousands of them over the past decade and revitalize an aging neighborhood at the base of Aspen Mountain.
Sarpa earlier this summer attempted to sweeten the deal by agreeing to deed-restrict the hotel rooms for 99 years so they would remain rental rooms and not fractional ownership condos.
Beyond questioning the number of employees, council members against the project said the project is too big, and the city is at capacity and can’t handle anymore development.
“We’ve been as creative and responsive as possible,” to the council’s criticisms of the project, Sarpa said.
While new restaurants enter the Aspen scene, there are several spaces that will remain empty this winter. Meanwhile, the retail market remains extremely hot.