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Grand Aspen owners may propose changes

Brent Gardner-Smith

A group of investors that paid $30.5 million for the Grand Aspen hotel site and other properties will likely make some significant changes in the project that was approved by the Aspen City Council.

“They are exploring possibilities and opportunities at the Grand Aspen site,” said RJ Gallagher of Gallagher, Sharp, West. His firm represents Four Peaks Management, the new entity formed to develop the hotel site, 17 slopeside residential units at the top of Mill Street, and the Bavarian Inn employee housing complex.

The local partners in the group are David Parker, Sam Houston, Frank Goldsmith and Scott Writer. The primary outside investor is Colony Capital, one of the world’s largest real estate investment trusts, with $6 billion in assets.

The proposal to tear down the now-closed Grand Aspen hotel and replace it with a new hotel was given conceptual approval in Dec. 1999 by the Aspen City Council. The approval gave the former owner, Savanah Limited Partnership, the right to build “150 moderately priced, upscale hotel units (132 standard rooms and 18 suites).”

It’s not clear what elements, if any, the Four Peaks Management group will seek to change in the hotel between conceptual and final approvals. But it could include a discussion of what “moderately priced, upscale hotel units” means, given the proposed hotel’s premier location at the base of Aspen Mountain between the Little Nell and St. Regis hotels.

The group expects to meet with the City Council by mid- to late-March, although no date has been set to begin reviewing a final approval application.

“We anticipate changes to occur in the final application,” said Nick Lelack, of the city planning department. “That’s why we haven’t set a meeting date yet.”

Gallagher said the new owners will not seek significant changes to the other projects in the deal – the Top of Mill residential development and the Bavarian Inn employee housing project. However, they do intend to tear down the old hotel beginning April 16, as previously scheduled. Demolition is to be complete by July 1, 2001.

The four Aspen-based partners in the group also said Thursday that the nationally-known investors in the project are playing a background role.

“There is a lot of money in the deal from the four local partners,” Gallagher said. “They are significant owners in the project. “

Parker is a former executive with Hines, Houston and Goldsmith have a real estate firm in Aspen; Scott Writer is a former Pitkin County commissioner candidate and a real estate developer. Gallagher said that the local group sought out the involvement of Colony Capital, Inc.

Thomas Barrack, David Bonderman, and Gary Winnick, who are all well known and highly regarded investors, are connected to the project through their ties to Colony Capital. Barrack is perhaps the most directly involved, given that he is CEO of Colony Capital.

Gary Winnick is chairman and CEO of the Pacific Capital Group, which “owns a significant equity interest in Colony Capital,” according to Winnick’s bio. But Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for Pacific Capital said Winnick has “no specific involvement with the Grand Aspen, although he has a great attention to detail and may have spoken with Barrack about the project.”

David Bonderman of the Texas Pacific Group, an investment company out of Fort Worth with a reported $4 billion under management, has a home in Snowmass Village, and was a co-founder of Colony Capital. He has met with the local investors about the project, but is said not to be playing a key role in shaping the project.


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