Highlands Village starting to take shape | AspenTimes.com

Highlands Village starting to take shape

Janet Urquhart

Loyal skiers and boarders at Aspen Highlands may think they’re in the wrong place when they step through the sliding doors of the Highlands Center and head for the lift next month.

The Exhibition quad, waiting to whisk them up the slopes, will look familiar, but little else will.

Gone is the narrow walkway between construction fences funneling them toward the chairlift. Gone are the makeshift Thunderbowl Cafe and the temporary restrooms that served as base village amenities.

In place will be a roomy plaza, flanked by a pair of massive timber-framed structures that will open this season. The rise of Aspen Highlands Village is under way. Visitors will no longer need to study an artist’s sketches to visualize the transformation of the ski area base – they can simply look around.

The $250 million Hines Resorts development began to unfold last year with completion of the parking garage and the Highlands Center, which houses lift ticket sales and Aspen Pro Mountain Sports. Aside from those two facilities, though, the base of Highlands was a maze of construction fencing.

Although construction continues, much has been done.

“I think the big thing people will notice is when they come out of the Highlands Center, they’ll walk into the plaza,” said David Norden, project manager for Hines. “The plaza itself will be done, and we’ll be able to start creating that sense of community.”

Open with the Dec. 16 start of the ski season at Highlands will be Trailhead Lodge, containing retail and restaurant space on the ground floor, worker housing on the second floor and two Ritz-Carlton Club units on the top floor.

Instead of the chilly confines of the Thunderbowl Cafe, skiers and boarders will find the Commonwealth Public House on a corner of the plaza open for lunch and dinner, or just a creamy pint of stout. Extending out toward the ski slopes and the afternoon sun will be a deck that seats 125 people.

Upstairs, local workers will call the Trailhead Lodge home. A combination of dorm units, rental and for-sale apartments will be ready for occupants next month. The owner of one of the building’s $38,000 one-bedroom employee units can wave from his porch overlooking the plaza to his neighbors – the owners of a Ritz-Carlton Club fractional ownership condo that fetches $440,000 for a one-twelfth share.

“We’ve got an interesting blend of the very high end through to the community housing,” Norden said. “The Aspen idea is in full force here, and we’re excited about it.”

Across the plaza, the Ritz-Carlton Club’s Elkhorn Lodge is nearing completion. It will open Feb. 3. The club’s restaurant, open to the public and club members for breakfast and lunch and dinner, will face the slopes on the ground floor. Upper floors will contain more of the club’s residences and several employee units.

Also under construction next to the Highlands Center is Maroon Creek Station, with first-floor retail shops and employee housing on the second and third floors, Norden said. It will be open next winter. An elevator shaft and big pile of dirt mark the future location of the White River Lodge – the second phase of the Ritz-Carlton Club.

In all, the base village will include 111 employee housing units and 135 free-market residences, including townhomes, single-family homes on the lower slopes to either side of the base and the Ritz-Carlton fractional ownership units.

Skiers and boarders on the Exhibition and Thunderbowl lifts will note some of the homes in various stages of construction. All but one of the lots has been sold – at an average price of $2.5 million, Norden said.

In addition, all five of the first phase of free-market townhomes have been sold, and five of the 10 townhomes in the second phase are under contract, he said. All are on the right side of the base village as one faces the slopes.

The phase II townhomes are listed at $4.5 million to more than $6 million apiece, Norden said. Each one is 6,100 square feet.

The 16 townhomes that will be built on the left, or Thunderbowl, side have not gone on the market yet. Also still to come on the Thunderbowl side are townhomes for employees.

Many of the units – both free-market and the employee housing – will be in use year-round, noted Norden. Long-range plans call for a deli, market and perhaps a post office to serve residents.

“I think we will have a true neighborhood here,” he said.

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