Fear of heights kill addition to Jerome
November 27, 2006
Aspen City Council members unanimously agreed Monday that an additional story on the Hotel Jerome would be a mistake, but other plans for renovation could still get the green light.The Oklahoma Publishing Co., which purchased the hotel in 2005, has plans to renovate the building next summer. The plans company representatives presented Monday night included an additional story on the northwest corner of the building to accommodate three two-bedroom suites, alterations to the hotel’s Main Street courtyard, a small fitness center, a basement spa and extensive interior renovations. The owners also asked the council to repeal a requirement established in the 1980s that the hotel reserve 27 parking spaces in the basement garage for employees. Their plans would, however, increase the number of spaces available in the hotel, and it would allow owners to build a spa in the basement. The owners also complied with a request from city staff to designate the Cortina Lodge, across Monarch Street, a historic property and to renovate it for continued use as employee housing.Representatives for the new owners, including local planner Sunny Vann, argued they need three additional suites, the spa and other renovations to remain competitive with other luxury hotels, both in and out of town. Aspen’s other luxury hotels, The Little Nell and the St. Regis, both offer several suites that can accommodate families. And remaining viable as a hotel, they contended, is necessary to the preservation of the historic building in its current use.Christy Everest, chairwoman and chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Publishing Co., outlined her family’s history of maintaining historic businesses rather than compromising them for maximum profit. Her family has operated The Oklahoman newspaper for more than a century, and in 1988, it purchased the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Everest, Vann and Steve Bartolin, the Broadmoor’s president and CEO, hold that hotel up as evidence The Oklahoma Publishing Co. bought the Jerome with the intent of preserving its place in history as a hotel, rather than converting it to fractional units or condominiums.Despite some suspicion over the owners’ motives, most members of the council and the public praised the efforts to update the aging hotel – except for the height.Although the new addition would have required that the council approve a height variance, none of the new floor would exceed the highest point of the existing annex that was added to the rear of the hotel.Nonetheless, members of the public feared that if the council continues to allow exceptions to its own rules, the height of town would incrementally creep up.”The moratorium is not because of infill, but because of upfill,” local Toni Kronberg said of the city’s current building ban.Carlie Siemel, who also opposed the height variance, questioned the logic of using the annex as a guideline of acceptable redevelopment in that part of town.”It’s already somewhat out of character,” he said. “Adding an additional 10 feet is adding insult to injury.”Real estate broker and former Mayor Bill Stirling was a part of the council that approved the annex. Stirling approved the new addition at the time, but at Monday’s meeting, he said the plans were “out of whack” with the historic portion of the hotel and opposed further upward additions.”I accept responsibility for that,” he said, calling the annex “abominable.”Councilman Jack Johnson was among those who had faith in the owners to preserve the Jerome’s place in Aspen’s history. His greater concern, he said, was for the interior of the hotel, particularly the J Bar and the lobby area.”To the degree that they are unrecognizable to us,” he said, “at the end of the day, that isn’t a community benefit. It’s a community failure.”Vann told the council the owners would agree to abandon the additional story but that they need to expedite approval for the other renovation to meet their construction schedule next year.The council directed the owners to provide some detail on the interior renovations, with an eye toward the hotel’s history, and continued the discussion, without the height variance, to Dec 11.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.